Greek strikes test government austerity plans

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Thousands of Greek public sector workers converged on parliament today to protest tough new austerity measures in the first big test of government resolve to implement deep budget cuts to win billions of euros in aid.

Government ministries, tax offices, schools, hospitals and public services were shut down for a rally of civil servants organised by the country's main public sector union ADEDY.

Private sector workers will join in tomorrow, shutting down transport in major cities and grounding flights at airports in the third joint walkout since the start of the year, when worries about Greece's swollen debt and deficit levels turned the country into a target of financial markets.

"These government measures are destroying my life," said Panagiota Katsagani, a 25-year-old part-time school teacher who said she would lose her job. "I was planning my future, now I have to go back and live with my parents."

Workers marched toward the parliament building in central Athens chanting, "We paid for their profits, we're paying for the crisis, the solution is in the street".

They waved posters reading "Our rights are under the hammer" and "Not one euro for the capitalists."

Before the rally, members of Greece's communist party hung banners reading "Peoples of Europe - Rise Up" on the walls of the Acropolis.

Participation in demonstrations has been limited to a few tens of thousands so far, paling in comparison to the riots that paralysed Athens in December 2008 following the police killing of a teenager.

But anger is growing after Prime Minister George Papandreou's socialist government unveiled draconian new budget cutting plans on Sunday that include major cuts in public sector wages and pensions.

In exchange, Athens is to receive 110 billion euros ($146.5 billion) in support over three years from the European Union and International Monetary Fund. The package aims to calm fears of a default and buy the country time to overhaul an economy that is uncompetitive and plagued by corruption.

Greek newspapers have been full of editorials warning the government not to make average workers and pensioners pay the price for sins of corrupt officials and tax evaders seen as the primary culprits for Greece's dire financial state.

The government plans foresee a public sector pay freeze through 2013 and deep cuts to treasured holiday bonuses and allowances that account for a substantial portion of civil servant incomes.

In the private sector, the government plans to loosen rules which prevent companies from firing more than 2 per cent of their workforces in a single month.