ATHENS Feb 3 Greek seamen extended a strike to
protest government austerity for a further 48 hours on Sunday,
meaning that dozens of islands will have been cut off from the
mainland for six days.
Farmers also briefly disrupted traffic on several major
motorways across Greece in the latest wave of protest over
budget cuts and labour reform that is needed to satisfy
Greece's biggest labour union has called a general 24-hour
strike for Feb. 20.
The seamen are demanding months of unpaid wages and the
repeal of a draft law that weakens their union by introducing a
new employment contract between shipowners and crew.
"The law wipes out the seamens' profession and all the rules
underpinning it," PNO union said.
The strike, which started on Thursday, has begun causing
shortages on grocery shelves and is hindering agricultural
exports to the Balkans and beyond, the Athens Central Vegetable
Market Association said in a statement.
The farmers disrupted traffic with sit-ins and by
distributing free rice to drivers, to protest tax increases that
form part of the country's bailout.
"We have no choice but to go on, we're on the brink of
desperation," one farmer told state television NET. Greece's
latest austerity package mandates lower tax refunds and fuel
subsidies for farmers and increases the social security
contributions they must pay.
The Greek government is holding talks with the protesters
but refuses to budge on any demands that might undermine its
deficit cutting efforts, a condition of bailout funds and debt
relief from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.
Greece last month invoked rarely used emergency powers to
break a strike of subway workers, serving military-style orders
instructing them to return to work or face arrest.
Austerity has fuelled social unrest and extremism. Police on
Friday arrested two bank robbers who turned out to be members of
left-wing extremist group "Conspiracy of Fire Cells", which has
claimed a spate of bomb attacks across the country since 2009.
"Golden Dawn", an ultra-right, anti-immigrant party which
ranks third in the opinion polls, staged its biggest rally ever
in Athens late on Saturday, mustering about 5,000 supporters.