Greek strike halts transport, people back reform

Wed Feb 24, 2010 1:30pm EST
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By Renee Maltezou and Ingrid Melander

ATHENS (Reuters) - A one-day general strike crippled Greece's transport and public services on Wednesday but is unlikely to halt government austerity measures to tackle a debt crisis that has rocked the euro zone.

As tens of thousands of strikers marched through Athens to protest against EU-prescribed tax hikes and pay cuts aimed at reducing a double-digit deficit, Athens and Berlin traded accusations about World War Two reparations.

And credit ratings agency Standard and Poor's said it may downgrade Greece's rating within a month if a deeper than forecast recession makes the government's steep deficit-cutting target appear hard to achieve.

The 24-hour general strike grounded flights, ships and trains, and closed schools, ministries and tourist sites, but stopped short of bringing Greece to a standstill.

Analysts said it was unlikely to influence plans to slash the deficit by four percentage points this year from 12.7 percent of GDP unless it is followed by more intense disruption.

"The strike will not have a major impact on the government's plan to take the country out of the crisis," said Theodore Couloumbis, deputy head of the Athens-based ELIAMEP think-tank.

"According to opinion polls, most Greeks realize the severity of the situation and feel painful measures are needed."

Scuffles broke out on the fringe of the protest, with police firing teargas to disperse groups of stone-throwing youths. Two protesters were slightly injured.   Continued...