UPDATE 2-Greece opens up road freight, clashes in Athens
* Lawmakers approve liberalisation of road freight
* Truckers clash with police, block roads
* Economists say liberalisation will boost GDP
(Adds final vote, Athens roads blockade over, details)
By Yannis Behrakis and Ingrid Melander
ATHENS, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Greek lawmakers opened up road freight to competition on Wednesday, prompting angry truck drivers to briefly block the two main roads to the capital and clash with police in front of parliament.
Road freight is one of the most closed professions in Greece -- along with pharmacists, architects and lawyers -- with no new licenses issued for decades. Opening up these professions is a key requirement of an EU/IMF bailout deal.
Riot police fired teargas at some 200 truck drivers after they tried to storm parliament, throwing tomatoes, wooden sticks, plastic bottles and stones to protest against the vote, a Reuters witness said. The situation then quietened down but the truckers stayed in front of the central Athens building.
The truck drivers lifted road blockades they had set up around Athens earlier in the day but raised new ones near Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city, and threatened to step up action, police said.
The new law scraps a decades-old system of licences worth hundreds of thousands of euros. Under a system to be phased in over three years, those seeking licenses will be charged only a small fee to cover administrative costs.
"Fearing the political cost and truckers' reactions, past governments have shirked from taking this initiative. This changes now. We are daring to do it," Infrastructure Minister Dimitris Reppas told parliament just before the clashes.
Under the terms of a 110-billion euro EU/IMF bailout the government must propose by the end of the year legislation opening up more closed professions including lawyers, architects and engineers.
Fully opening up the country's 70 or so closed professions would boost GDP by 10 percent in five years and by some 17 percent in the long-run, according to the Athens-based IOBE think-tank.
Unions say drivers have paid 200,000-400,000 euros to buy licenses, which the new legislation makes almost worthless. The government says the new law still makes it easier for those with old licenses to set up a freight company.
Truck drivers blocked the country for six days in July to protest against the bill. Some 2,000 marched to parliament this week, chanting "Thieves, thieves, thieves" and holding banners reading "Hands off our trucks." [ID:nLDE68K1P5] (Additional reporting by Harry Papachristou; Editing by Peter Graff)
- Tweet this
- Share this
- Digg this