In Athens, 'austerity' remains a dirty word

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Hundreds of Greeks took to the streets to demonstrate against harsh austerity measures before the return today of international inspectors who will decide whether the government has done enough to secure an injection of new bailout cash.

Athens was paralysed by a general transport strike for a third day as staff in its underground system joined bus drivers, tram operators and taxi drivers to cause gridlock.

Inter-city trains were also crippled when rail workers joined the action against George Papandreou's Socialist government, which unions accuse of piling additional sacrifices on an already exhausted nation.

Most of the anger is directed against new pay cuts, civil service layoffs and a controversial property tax that will leave many Greeks having to pay hundreds of euros from their rapidly dwindling salaries.

"There is only one answer – a total and mass resistance by the Greek people," said Despina Spanou, of the Adedy union, which represents more than 200,000 civil servants.

The "Troika" of economic powers that saved Greece from bankruptcy last year – the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – have told the struggling eurozone member that it faces financial ruin if it fails to maintain its austerity drive. The government has been warned that €8bn of loans, part of a €110bn euro loan lifeline extended in May 2010, will not be paid without proof of progress.

A new EU bailout worth €159bn also hangs in the balance. Despite previous pledges, the government has fallen shy of deficit reduction targets and a much-touted drive to raise €50bn from privatising state assets has failed to launch.

"Instead of coming and going, the Troika should spend a month with a pensioner, a family-man and tell us whether these measures are human," aviation worker, Costas Papalambros, 50, told Reuters news agency.

Many in Mr Papandreou's ruling Pasok party have warned that Greek society has reached its limits after more than a year of belt-tightening. Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos, a well-known maverick, said yesterday: "I believe that Greeks' tax-paying limits were exhausted long ago."