Bonds News

Thousands plan march against Greek austerity plan

ATHENS, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Thousands of Greek workers are expected to march to parliament on Wednesday to protest against a wage freeze and tax rises imposed as part of a government austerity plan.

A nationwide strike will close schools and hospitals and disrupt public transport as part of the mass protest during a visit by EU officials assessing whether Greece is on track to cut its double-digit deficit.

Unions in the private and public sectors, representing half of Greece’s workforce of 5 million, have called the 24-hour stoppage in protest against the plan which they say will impose the biggest burden on the poor.

“We ask the government not to give in to the desires of the markets, to set people’s needs as a priority and adopt a mix of economic and social policies that won’t lead to recession but to jobs,” said Yannis Panagopoulos, head of the private sector union GSEE.

Public transport will be disrupted, and ministries, tax offices, schools and hospitals will close. All but emergency flights to and from Greece will be grounded and ferries will be at a standstill.

Greeks are prone to take to the streets in demonstrations that can turn violent, but reaction to the austerity measures has so far been largely symbolic. Opinion polls show most Greeks want to give the government time to try to end the country’s recession and severe debt crisis.

Under the scrutiny of EU policymakers and markets, the government has so far refused to give in to protesters’ demands. Farmers have dismantled road blocks they erected weeks ago without winning any concessions.

The public sector union ADEDY said it would stage more demonstrations after Wednesday’s walkout -- the first joint strike organised by public and private unions against the Socialist government.

“We will continue with strong workers’ interventions in March,” ADEDY head Spyros Papaspyros told Reuters, adding they were also planning protests for April and May.

Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou said on Tuesday the government might decide on more measures to cut the deficit after talks with the visiting EU inspectors. [ID:nLDE61M2AZ]. (Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Andrew Dobbie)