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Friday 18 April 2014

Greece hit by new general strike

Protesters gather during a demonstration against austerity measures in Athens (AP)

Unions in Greece have launched another general strike against austerity measures, amid predictions that unemployment in the crisis-hit country will reach 30% this year.

The 24-hour protest by unions representing private and public sector workers is disrupting flights and ferry services and crippling public services, in a renewed confrontation between labour groups and the conservative-led government over policies aimed at curbing Greece's overspending.

State-run schools, most public transport, and even neighbourhood farmers markets also stopped running.

In Athens, up to 3,000 police officers are on duty for union-organised street rallies.

Conservative prime minister Antonis Samaras has won praise from bailout lenders for pushing through major cost-cutting measures after forming a three-party coalition last June.

French president Francois Hollande was in Athens on Tuesday to express the "support of France and trust in the actions of (Greece's) government in recent months". But a new round of tax increases this year and a surge in unemployment to 27% have angered unions, as Greeks battle a rapid increase in poverty and face a sixth year of recession.

In recent weeks, the Samaras government has twice used rare emergency powers to force an end to strikes by workers on ferry services and the Athens subway.

"The Greek people have no tolerance left," Ilias Iliopoulos, general secretary of the civil servants union ADEDY, said ahead of the strike. "For us, the time has come for a major confrontation with the government ... and policies that are taking our country from bad to worse and leading people to poverty and desperation."

Unions are also angry at a government decision to scrap collective wage agreements across the public sector as part of an overhaul of state pay scales that will usher in further salary cuts.

Unemployment is expected to reach 30% this year, while national output will contract a further 4.1%, according to a study by a government-funded research agency published last week.

Press Association

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