January 31, 2013 / 8:48 AM / in 5 years

Greek transport workers, doctors strike over austerity

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek trains and ferries ground to a halt and hospital staffing was cut to a minimum on Thursday as transport workers and doctors went on strike to protest austerity measures demanded by the country’s foreign lenders.

Greece has seen a recent surge in demonstrations and strikes as public anger threatens to boil over in reaction to wage and spending cuts that are deepening hardship in a country suffering through its sixth consecutive year of recession.

Public transport in Athens was disrupted as bus, trolleybus and railway workers walked off the job while ships and ferries stayed docked at ports after seamen began a 48-hour strike.

Hundreds of doctors, medical staff, teachers and municipal workers rallied in central Athens to protest what they say are “dangerous” austerity measure that have drained the nation’s health system of supplies and staff.

They later marched to parliament chanting “We will strike until we win!” and holding up banners reading “We’ll kick the troika out,” referring to the country’s European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank lenders.

Greece’s main public sector union ADEDY also called a work stoppage in solidarity with the striking health care workers.

“The belt-tightening is killing the people and destroying the national health system,” said ADEDY’s head Costas Tsikrikas.

In a separate protest, about 1,000 supporters of the Communist-affiliated PAME group gathered outside an Athens court to show solidarity with activists arrested for storming the labor ministry’s office on Wednesday.

HARD LINE

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has sought to maintain a hard line against strikes in a bid to show the country’s foreign lenders - as well as the public - that he is determined to push through unpopular reforms.

A nine-day walkout by metro workers led to a standoff with his government this month and paralyzed transport across the Greek capital. The strike ended only after the government invoked an emergency law and threatened to arrest the workers.

The lenders’ decision to disburse long-delayed aid last month eased fears that Greece could go bankrupt and be forced to leave the euro zone, but the country still faces deep challenges from a volatile social climate and opposition to the reforms.

“We’ll keep fighting,” said Tsikrikas. “We demand that Europe’s heavyweights change their dead-end policy.”

Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou and Tatiana Fragou; Writing by Deepa Babington and Renee Maltezou; Editing by John Stonestreet

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