Greece reels from new strikes against austerity

Greece reeled on Thursday from fresh strikes against austerity measures, with walkouts by groups ranging from sailors to doctors to transport workers causing disruptions.

Greeks also held scattered protests against the measures the coalition government enacted in return for vital EU-IMF funds to avoid bankruptcy.

Sailors kicked off a two-day walkout, buses and trains were at a standstill and civil servants held a three-hour work stoppage against the government's cutbacks.

Public sector union ADEDY, which denounced the "closures of hospitals" and their "underfunding", said 5,000 people demonstrated in central Athens Thursday. The police estimated the number at 1,000.

Doctors in hospitals also walked off their jobs to protest against ongoing sector spending cuts.

Farmers in various parts of the country were also in an uproar, warning that the rising cost of fuel and electricity owing to higher taxation was driving them to ruin.

Greece's main union, the private sector GSEE, on Thursday called a 24-hour general strike against austerity for February 20, ahead of a visit to Athens by auditors representing the country's international creditors.

ADEDY, the second main union, is also planning a general strike for next month but the date has yet to be decided.

The government, which is struggling to keep the country's fledgling recovery on track, insists it will stick to the austerity blueprint agreed with the EU and the IMF in return for a multi-billion loan rescue.

Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou defended the loan rescue and austerity measures on Thursday, saying the country was at a crossroads.

"We made painful decisions, but it's the only way out of the crisis," he said in an interview with Real FM radio.

"Everyone knows we're experiencing difficulties."

Successive cuts to salaries and pensions over the last three years have caused waves of protests, many of them violent.

On Wednesday, around 30 Communist unionists were arrested after attempting to occupy the office of Labour Minister Yiannis Vroutsis.

Vroutsis had previously announced a new pension overhaul.

Members of the communist-affiliated PAME trade union demonstrated outside the Athens court complex on Thursday to demand the release of those arrested.

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