Greece hit by cuts protest strikes

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Striking teachers protest against cuts as they hold a banner denouncing the IMF and EU in central Athens (AP

A general strike has halted public transport across Greece as unions step up opposition to tough budget cuts.

State hospital doctors, ambulance drivers, pharmacists, lawyers and tax collectors also joined teachers, journalists and thousands of small businesses in the 24-hour strike as more middle-class groups took part in the protest than have in the past.

Athens’ main shopping district was mostly empty, as many small business owners closed their stores.

Prime Minister George Papandreou faces international pressure to make more lasting cuts after the nation’s debt-crippled economy was rescued from bankruptcy by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

Riot police took up positions around the city ahead of two rallies to Parliament amid fears the mass protests could turn violent.

The government urged protest organisers to prevent potentially violent groups from blending in with peaceful protesters – a common problem for Greek police at large rallies.

The strike halted trains, ferries and most public transport across the country, and hit many airlines at Athens airport.

Unions are angry at ongoing austerity measures put in place by the Socialist government in exchange for a £93 billion bailout loan package from European countries and the IMF.

Stathis Anestis, deputy leader of Greece’s largest union, the GSEE, said workers should not be asked to make more sacrifices during a third straight year of recession.

Mr Anestis said around 60 demonstrations were being planned in cities and towns across Greece, while the GSEE was in talks with European unions to try and co-ordinate future strikes with other EU countries.

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