Greek Unions Hold New General Strike Against Cuts

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Greek workers held a general strike against the government's austerity measures Thursday, two weeks after the previous day of protests deteriorated into rioting in which three people died in a burning bank.

Ferries stayed tied up at port, buses, the Athens metro and trains suspended services, and many banks were closed. Schools shut down while public hospitals were working with emergency staffing levels.

Demonstrators are protesting against the harsh measures imposed by the cash-strapped government. Two protest marches also are planned in Athens, and police are bracing for violence. During Greece's last general strike on May 5, three workers - including a pregnant woman - died when a bank was torched by rioters.

While minor riots and vandalism are frequent during demonstrations in Greece, they very rarely cause any injuries, and the three deaths caused widespread shock and condemnation. But it remained unclear whether that would deter further violence.

The Athens Traders Association issued a letter to the government demanding that authorities ensure demonstrations remain peaceful. Storeowners across central Athens frequently see their shop windows smashed and stores vandalized during protest marches.

"At a time when Greek commercial enterprise is struggling to survive, the commercial sector of Athens, the residents and visitors of the capital, are justifiably demanding that the repeated, and particularly the most recent tragic events, never happen again," the association said in a letter sent to top government ministers and judicial authorities.

Public anger has grown against deep pension and salary cuts, as well as steep tax hikes, imposed in an attempt to pull Greece out of an unprecedented debt crisis. The measures were needed for Greece to receive a euro110 billion three-year rescue loan package from other European Union countries and the International Monetary Fund that staved off bankruptcy.

Unions claim low-earners will suffer disproportionately from the measures.

Thursday's strike - the fourth this year - affected all public and many private employers. However, unlike other general walkouts, most flights were unaffected as air traffic controllers stayed on the job. Some small regional airports closed, and Greece's Olympic Air carrier said it was canceling 30 domestic flights.

On Wednesday, the government redeemed euro8.5 billion ($10.43 billion) in expiring 10-year state bonds, using a first installment of the European Union and IMF rescue loans. Athens was unable to raise the funds without outside assistance, as wary investors had sent Greek borrowing costs sky-high. Just a day earlier, the country had received euro14.5 billion ($18 billion) from 10 of the other 15 EU countries that use the euro.

Greece's debt crisis has sent shock waves through global markets. That, combined with fears for Europe's struggling economy and German warnings that the future of the euro is at stake, sent the common currency to a four-year low against the dollar Wednesday.

Athens received the first euro5.5 billion ($6.7 billion) tranche from the IMF last week, and the next and final IMF-eurozone installment for this year - an estimated euro18 billion ($22 billion) - is expected in the autumn.

This program aired on May 20, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.