Greek civil servants walk off job
ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek civil servants walked off the job for three hours on Thursday to protest austerity measures that include pension and salary cuts and the suspension of tens of thousands of workers on partial pay.
The work stoppage was to leave hospitals with emergency staff and shut down other public services from noon to 3 p.m. About 1,000 pensioners marched through central Athens to protest outside Parliament.
Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, meanwhile, was meeting with Greece's debt inspectors from the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission, collectively known as the troika. The country is negotiating the terms of a second massive rescue package, worth euro130 billion ($169 billion), with the eurozone and private bondholders.
On Wednesday, the IMF's top official in Greece urged the country to fire excess public servants and impose further cuts on workers' pay rights to reduce the size of the public sector and make the economy more competitive. Poul Thomsen warned the government it would not be able to reduce its high budget deficits unless it focused on spending cuts, arguing that the country's taxpayers had reached the limit.
"There are no more low-hanging fruits," he told a financial conference in Athens. "We have clearly reached the limit of what can be achieved through raising taxes ... Lesson: We have to move the expenditure side."
He urged the government to "move aggressively" to reduce the size of the public sector.
The IMF and eurozone countries have been propping up Greece's economy with a euro110 billion package of rescue loans since May 2010. In return, the country has imposed harsh austerity measures including slashing pensions and salaries and introducing several waves of tax hikes that have driven the country into recession.
Greece has admitted it will miss its deficit targets this year, with revenues still weak despite draconian tax hikes. Papademos promised Wednesday to speed up painful reforms if needed to meet budget targets.
The prime minister was also to meet later in the day with the European Commission's task force chief for Greece, Horst Reichenbach.
Papademos, a former central bank governor who was appointed last month to lead an interim coalition government after a political crisis caused his predecessor to resign, was then to convene his Cabinet Tuesday afternoon.