Greeks shut airports, services to protest economy

ATHENS Wed Feb 25, 2009 8:23am EST

ATHENS Feb 25 (Reuters) - Greeks disgruntled by their country's economic woes ramped up protests against the government on Wednesday, shutting down airports and disrupting many public services.

Public schools and tax offices shut down, and services at ministries and public offices were suspended, as hundreds of workers marched to parliament with banners reading "No to pension reforms, privatisations and job cuts".

"Government policy ... only burdens workers, the unemployed and the poor," public sector umbrella union ADEDY, which represents 500,000 members, said in a statement.

The strikes are the latest in a wave of protests that have put pressure on Greece's conservative government, shaken by the worst riots in decades in December and struggling with a sharp economic downturn.

After years of 4 percent growth, Greece is seeing its economy sharply slowing down due to the global financial crisis. Workers accuse the conservative government, clinging to a one-seat majority in parliament, of only helping the rich.

"We will continue and intensify our struggle, until our demands are satisfied," ADEDY, which called the 24-hour strike, said.

National carrier Olympic airlines [OLY.UL] said 68 of its domestic and international flights were cancelled and four were rescheduled, while private rival Aegean Airlines (AGNr.AT) said 36 flights were grounded and 23 others disrupted.

The government, struggling with a huge public debt and fiscal deficits, has launched a 28-billion-euro ($36-billion) bank support plan, saying it meant to pour money into the slowing economy.

The strike was the latest in a series of public protests to hit the ruling conservatives. December riots were prompted by the police shooting of a teenager but fuelled by discontent over the economy and high youth unemployment.

In January, thousands of farmers protesting low product prices blocked border crossings, causing 11 days of travel chaos across Greece and hurting commercial transport. They ended the protest after securing a 500-million-euro aid package.

Truckers went on strike last week, demanding a crackdown on unlicensed transport companies and illegal economic immigrants, who they said were destroying goods and fighting drivers in their effort to stow away on board.

On Wednesday, they ended the five-day strike and blockades at the borders with Bulgaria and Greek ports, after transport ministry officials promised to start talks.

"Our strike is over, but only for now," said the president of Greek truck drivers federation, Apostolos Kenanides.

(Editing by Phakamisa Ndzamela)

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