Athens: Greece braced for a crippling general strike against austerity on Thursday, as EU leaders were to tackle the eurozone’s ongoing economic crisis at a summit.
The fourth such strike of the year is expected to paralyse train and ferry traffic, disrupt flights and shut down public services as unions seek to send a message to the government that they will not tolerate a third straight year of cuts.
The coalition government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is holding delicate negotiations with Greece’s so-called ‘troika’ of creditors — the EU, IMF and European Central Bank — to secure the release of loans needed to avoid bankruptcy.
The government has been told by its creditors to jumpstart flagging economic reforms and lighten the budget by 9.2 billion euros ($12 billion) next year in order to secure a 31.5-billion-euro loan slice next month.
The money is part of an overall EU-IMF bailout of 130 billion euros that is tied to Greek reform pledges, including a long-delayed privatisation drive.
Waves of prior austerity measures over the last two years managed to slash Greece’s runaway deficit by over six percent of output, at the cost of cuts to wages, pensions and benefits.
One in four Greeks are officially unemployed — with the real number higher still according to unions — and the economy is in a deepening recession.
Reflecting mounting anger in the country, President Carolos Papoulias revealed that he had told Germany’s visiting Chancellor Angela Merkel last week to “seek another people” to impose new cuts on.
Separate protests by unions, Communist workers and leftists will be held in Athens from 0800 GMT onwards and similar gatherings will take place in Greece’s second city Thessaloniki.
A trader association has also called its members to shut down their stores.
Meanwhile, Samaras will be trying to persuade his European peers to give the country more time to apply the latest cuts, which he has promised will be the last.
“We will do everything required to bring Greece at the edge of European competitiveness and make it a model democratic society, a modern economy,” Samaras told fellow leaders at a meeting of the European Popular Party in Bucharest on Wednesday.
But he added: “People are not ‘spare parts’. You have to fix the problems while keeping the society together, and its cohesion alive.”
Samaras and his political allies want the latest reform overhaul to extend over four years, to 2016, instead of the current timeframe of two years.
The IMF has publicly accepted the idea but European leaders are sceptical, arguing that the extension will require additional funds which their respective parliaments are unlikely to approve.
The release of the 31.5 billion euros which the Greek government needs to recapitalise banks and replenish liquidity in the economy depends on a troika report on the state of the economy expected to be ready next month.
Samaras had hoped to travel to Brussels with an agreement with the troika on the required austerity cuts but a last-minute disagreement over labour reforms and civil service layoffs has left a number of key issues unresolved.