Greece ends seamen walkout but other strikes persist

ATHENS Wed Feb 6, 2013 12:24pm EST

1 of 7. People reach out to take fruits and vegetables distributed for free by farmers during a protest against high production costs outside the Agriculture Ministry in Athens February 6, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/John Kolesidis

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ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek seamen on Wednesday ended a six-day strike that cut off dozens of islands and led to food shortages after the government ordered them back to work.

But other unions called for more action in a series of strikes by public transport workers and farmers which have underscored Greeks' anger at austerity measures.

Hundreds of people jostled for free vegetables handed out by farmers in a symbolic protest earlier on Wednesday, trampling one man and prompting an outcry over the growing desperation created by economic crisis.

Images of people struggling to seize bags of tomatoes and leeks thrown from a truck dominated television, triggering a bout of soul-searching over the new depths of poverty in the debt-laden country.

"These images make me angry. Angry for a proud people who have no food to eat, who can't afford to keep warm, who can't make ends meet," said Kostas Barkas, a lawmaker from the leftist Syriza party.

Other lawmakers from across the political spectrum decried the images "of people on the brink of despair" and the sense of "sadness for a proud people who have ended up like this".

People have seen their living standards crumble as the country faces its sixth year of recession that has driven unemployment to record highs.

Greece has been forced to push through painful wage and pension cuts demanded by its European Union and International Monetary Fund lenders as the price of bailout funds to avert bankruptcy.

FARMERS ANGRY

Greek ships sailed again from the busy ports of Piraeus and Rafina on Wednesday after the government ordered seamen to end a six-day strike aimed at securing wages and union rights.

At dawn, smiling passengers who had been stranded at Piraeus carried their luggage across the port, relieved to be boarding the ships.

But in northern and central Greece, farmers protesting high production costs and fuel prices placed their tractors on the sides of highways, threatening to block the country's main road artery if not satisfied.

In the capital, bus and trolleybus workers held a four-hour work stoppage, as did journalists at state broadcasters.

The free food handout in Athens began peacefully as hundreds of Greeks lined up in advance outside the agriculture ministry, where protesting farmers laid out tables piled high with produce, giving away 50 metric tonnes (55.11 tons) of produce in under two hours.

Tensions flared when the stalls ran out of produce and dozens of people - some carrying small children - rushed to a truck and shoved each other out of the way in the competition for what was left.

One man was treated for injuries after being trampled when he fell to the ground in the commotion.

"I never imagined that I would end up here," said Panagiota Petropoulos, 65, who struggles to get by on her 530-euro monthly pension while paying 300 euros in rent.

"I can't afford anything, not even at the fruit market. Everything is expensive, prices of everything are going up while our income is going down and there are no jobs."

(Additional reporting by John Kolesidis and Tatiana Fragou; Writing by Karolina Tagaris)

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