* Retailers can open seven Sundays a year
* Change required as part of country's bailout
* Church, unions opposed full liberalisation
By Angeliki Koutantou
ATHENS, July 24 Greece softened its restrictive
Sunday shopping rules as demanded by its lenders, but went back
on plans for full liberalisation after strong opposition by
small retailers and the Orthodox Church.
In a move aimed at making its economy more flexible,
Parliament passed on Wednesday a law allowing retailers to stay
open for business seven Sundays a year, up from currently two.
This would comply with the terms of Greece's 240-billion
euro international bailout.
More Sunday shopping is part of measures to boost Greece's
ailing economy, which has shrunk by about a quarter since a debt
crisis broke out in 2009.
Sunday shopping is expected to boost retail sales, the
government said. It is fighting a severe economic crisis fuelled
by record unemployment and austerity measures imposed by the
country's international lenders.
"With this measure we want to revive the centres of big
cities," Development Minister Costis Hatzidakis said.
But Hatzidakis gave up on a more ambitious plan to allow
some stores to stay open every Sunday, bowing to opposition by
small business unions, workers and the church.
The union of small Greek retailers ESEE said full
liberalisation would fail to boost sales and instead just raise
operating costs by a quarter.
"It would be a zero-sum game, because some shops' gains
would mean losses for other, smaller players who would lose
market share to the big ones", said ESEE Vassilis Korkidis.
Greece's influential Orthodox church also objected to
scrapping the Sunday holiday, saying this day should be strictly
reserved for rest and religious duties.
"Sunday is dedicated to God. Sunday should be a holiday to
give Christians the chance to worship their God and rest after a
week-long labour," the Holy Synod, the Greek church's governing
body has said.
(Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; Editing by Toby Chopra)