Greek transport workers, doctors strike over austerity cuts

ATHENS Thu Jan 31, 2013 8:46am GMT

1 of 7. Riot police spray teargas at protesters during clashes outside the Labour Ministry in Athens January 30, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/John Kolesidis

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ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek trains and ferries ground to a halt and hospital staffing was cut to a minimum on Thursday as transport workers and doctors went on strike to protest austerity measures demanded by the country's foreign lenders.

Greece has seen a surge in protests and strikes in recent weeks as public anger simmers over wage and spending cuts that are deepening hardship in a country suffering through its sixth consecutive year of recession.

Public transport in Athens was disrupted as bus, trolleybus and railway workers went on strike while ships and ferries stayed docked at ports after seamen began a 48-hour stoppage.

Doctors and medical workers went on strike to protest "dangerous" austerity measures that they said had left the nation's health system short of supplies and staff.

Greece's main public sector union ADEDY also called a walkout in solidarity with the striking healthcare workers.

"They are closing down hospitals and cutting down on medical equipment and medicines in the hospitals," ADEDY's secretary general Ilias Iliopoulos said. "There is a big shortage in doctors and other medical staff... We are asking the government to stop the collapse of the public health service."

In a separate protest, about 1,000 supporters of the Communist-affiliated PAME group gathered outside an Athens court to show solidarity with activists arrested for storming the labour ministry's office on Wednesday.

The latest protests come after a nine-day walkout by metro workers led to a standoff with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's government earlier this month and paralysed transport across the Greek capital. The strike ended only after the government invoked an emergency law and threatened to arrest the workers.

Samaras has sought to maintain a hard line against striking workers in a bid to show the country's lenders at the European Union and International Monetary Fund - as well as the public - that he is determined to push through unpopular reforms.

The lenders' decision to disburse long-delayed aid last month eased fears that Greece could go bankrupt and be forced to leave the euro zone, but the country still faces deep challenges from a volatile social climate and domestic opposition to the reform programme.

(Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou and Tatiana Fragou, Writing by Deepa Babington)

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