Greece's efforts to prove it can clean up its public finances remained under pressure Thursday, as taxi drivers went on strike and official figures showed the unemployment rate hit a five-year high.
Even as European leaders in Brussels discussed ways to rescue the country from its debt load, the taxi drivers protested a government austerity program designed to pull the country out of its financial crisis.
The day before, a nationwide strike by civil servants hit hospitals, schools and grounded flights.
The hopes are that EU nations will extend some kind of help for Greece to prevent a default that could spread to other EU countries.
Greece is under intense European Union pressure to slash spending after it revealed a massive and previously undeclared budget shortfall last year that continues to rattle financial markets and the euro, the currency shared by 16 EU members.
Its deficit spiraled to more than 12 percent of economic output — more than four times the eurozone limit — in 2009.
The government has announced a broad austerity plan, including the freezing of civil servants' salaries and a 10 percent cut in their stipends and bonuses, as well as higher taxes on fuel, alcohol and tobacco and a two-year increase in the average retirement age to bring it to 63 years.
Unions have been reacting, with civil servants walking off the job across the country Wednesday, grounding flights and shutting state schools, tax offices and customs. State-run hospitals were left working with emergency staff.
Taxi drivers went on strike on Thursday, protesting higher fuel taxes and measures that force all vendors to issue receipts — an attempt by the government to crack down on prolific tax evasion by businesses that underreport their income.
The taxi drivers, who complain it will be too expensive for them to install receipt machines in their cabs, also object to the austerity measures in general.
"We deem they are wrong measures, that they are measures that come from American-trained economists, from neoliberal "Golden Boys" from Brussels and that they will bring society to its knees," said Efthymios Lymberopoulos, the head of the taxi owners' union.
Their strike came as the national statistics service released November 2009 jobless figures, showing that unemployment rose to a five-year high of 10.6 percent in November 2009, up from 9.8 percent in October.
A total of 531.953 Greeks were without jobs in November, about 41,000 more than in October and nearly 147,000 more than in November 2008, when the unemployment rate was 7.8 percent.
After admitting that financial data has been doctored for years, Greece's new center-left Socialist government has pledged to overhaul the statistics system and make it independent of government intervention.
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