New strike action grips Greece
A 24-hour strike by civil servants is disrupting public services in Greece as the country's government struggles to hammer out a deal on further austerity measures with international creditors.
The strike by public sector unions is affecting services at tax offices, local government and elsewhere. A protest march is planned in central Athens later in the day, while civil servants have pencilled in another 48-hour strike from March 19.
Demonstrators gathered at two squares in central Athens, and included cleaning staff fired by the Finance Ministry, who marched holding up buckets and mops.
The latest disruptions come as negotiations with rescue lenders continue to drag on, with the government reluctant to impose more economic pain in a country already exhausted by a six-year recession.
"We believe that they will be concluded by Sunday," government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou told Antenna television. "We are near the end of the crisis, and this is the last major consultation."
Greece has been hammered by a vicious financial crisis since late 2009 that developed into an economic depression. The economy has shrunk by around a quarter while unemployment has soared to over 25%.
Since May 2010, Greece has been dependent on billions of euro in rescue loans from the other European Union countries that use the currency, and from the International Monetary Fund. In return, successive Greek governments have had to slash spending, increase taxes and enact wide-ranging economic reforms.
There are hopes that the country's recession will soon end but the recovery is expected to be slow.
In central Athens, a group of school teachers chained themselves to railings in front of parliament.
Nikos Kikakis, a suspended 59-year-old school headmaster who is due to be laid off this month, said: "I feel like I've been dumped in the trash. I have worked for 26 years in public service, and have no hope of finding a job now."
An association representing pharmacy owners said it plans to close stores on Friday and Monday in a protest against proposals to loosen retail restrictions and allow the sale of non-prescription drugs at supermarkets.