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Greek strike to halt flights, close banks, schools

ATHENS (Reuters) - Flights to and from Greece will be suspended Tuesday and banks, schools and public transport will shut down during the latest 24-hour national strike to protest against the conservative government’s economic policies.

Unions are opposing the 2009 budget, which goes to parliament for debate this week, saying it fails to protect workers from the high cost of living, as well as privatisations, tax collecting measures and other reforms.

Air-traffic controllers will stop work for four hours, suspending all but emergency flights, as part of the action by the private sector union federation GSEE and its public sector counterpart ADEDY, which group around half of Greece’s 5-million-strong work force.

The strike, which follows several 24-hour stoppages this year, will suspended intercity rail services and urban public transport at peak times to also protest against the sale of state firms such as Olympic Airlines, wage and pension reforms.

Olympic will cancel 75 flights, a company spokesman said, while its smaller rival Aegean Airlines has cancelled 46 domestic flights to and from Athens.

“The country will come to a standstill tomorrow. We expect millions to strike,” said Stathis Anestis, a spokesman for GSEE, which has also criticised tax rises amid an economic slowdown.

“The government must change its ways. We will continue if they persist, and we will intensify our struggle with more strikes,” he told Reuters Monday.

Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, whose fragile parliamentary majority has been shaken by scandals, has promised measures to shield consumers from price rises and to compensate workers from privatised companies.

Unionists say the prospect of widespread job losses and government reforms to Greece’s wage and social security benefits will drag more of the 11 million population into poverty. One in five Greeks live below the poverty line, earning less than 5,000 euros a year, according to government figures.

Hospitals will operate with emergency staff, while Greek print and broadcast media will close for the day and state-owned power utilities will close their client services departments.

Reporting by Renee Maltezou and Daniel Flynn; Editing by Charles Dick