Greek civil servants walked off their jobs Wednesday at the start of a two-day nationwide strike protesting planned job cuts required as part of the country's international bailout.
The strike affected all public services across Greece. Schools and courts will remain closed, while hospitals will be functioning with reduced staff. Trains were to stop running for four hours, and journalists joined in with a three-hour work stoppage, pulling news broadcasts off the air until noon.
The walkouts are the first widespread strike action after the summer and aim to put pressure on the coalition government to repeal unpopular austerity measures. Officials have vowed not to back down.
Government plans call for the suspension on partial pay of 25,000 civil servants this year in a drive to reduce the size of the public sector and meet conditions to continue receiving rescue loans. Many of those suspended are expected to eventually lose their jobs.
The country has been depending on bailouts from the International Monetary Fund and other European countries since May 2010. In return, it has implemented a series of strict austerity measures to reform its economy.
They have included deep cuts to state salaries and pensions and repeated rounds of tax hikes, measures which many blame for prolonging a deep recession that is now in its sixth year. Unemployment is above 27 percent, the highest in the European Union, while it reaches nearly 60 percent for those under the age of 25.
Debt inspectors from the IMF, European Commission and European Central Bank, jointly known as the "troika," are due back in Athens to review progress on reforms next week.
The country's main private sector union was joining the strike with a four-hour work stoppage in the middle of the day, while two demonstrations were planned for central Athens: one by a Communist Party-backed union in the morning and the other by the main civil servants' union at around midday.
The two-day strike comes during a week of a series of strikes in various sectors. High school teachers have embarked on rolling five-day strikes, while state hospital doctors walked off the job for three days from Tuesday.
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