Strike aims to derail new austerity measures

Nicholas Paphitis / The Associated Press /


ATHENS, Greece — Greek trade unions launched a general strike and nationwide protests on Tuesday against a new package of austerity measures, to be voted on this week, which would condemn Greece to more years of hardship in exchange for rescue loans.

Flights to and from the country stopped for three hours at the start of a 48-hour strike that closed schools, halted train and ferry services, and left Athens without public transport or taxis while state hospitals ran on emergency staff.

More than 35,000 people marched in two separate demonstrations in Athens organized by labor unions. Another 20,000 gathered to protest in the country’s second largest city of Thessaloniki.

Police were on alert for potential violence, as most major anti-austerity protests over the past three years have degenerated into riots.

The demonstrations will culminate Wednesday, when lawmakers vote on a 13.5 billion-euro ($17.3 billion) package of spending cuts and tax increases over the next two years.

The outcome of the vote is far from certain due to disagreements in the five-month-old coalition government and a reluctance among center-left lawmakers to approve more austerity measures. But the rejection of the savings package would leave Greece facing the threat of a default on its mountain of debt that could force it to eventually exit the euro bloc.

The deeply unpopular measures include new deep pension cuts and tax hikes, a two-year increase in the retirement age to 67, and laws that will make it easier to fire and transfer civil servants.