Wednesday, October 8, 2008

REUTERS - Greek strike grounds flights, traffic clogs Athens

ATHENS (Oct 8, 2008) : Flights from Athens airport were cancelled and traffic ground to a halt in the Greek capital on Wednesday as state-run company workers went on strike to protest government privatisation plans.

Greece's private sector umbrella union (GSEE), which represents about 2 million workers, called the 24-hour strike to protest a plan to sell off state carrier Olympic Airlines [OLY.UL].

"We demand an end to these privatisations. These moves are neither smart, nor are they reforms," GSEE vice president Alekos Kalivis told reporters.

"The government cannot continue to sell off state assets."

People started gathering in central Athens to take part in a rally and march on parliament set for midday.

"We expect a very good turnout for today's rally, people are fed up," Kalivis said.

Public transport was halted during the morning rush-hour period forcing thousands of workers to drive to work, clogging main roads and causing kilometres-long traffic jams on the city's main arteries.

State carrier Olympic cancelled 50 flights and will operate only one flight per destination, affecting domestic flights and international routes to destinations like London, Paris, Rome and Frankfurt.

Inter-city rail services and hospitals will work with emergency staff, while workers at partly privatised telecoms company OTE and state-run Public Power Corp. (PPC) will walk off the job for a few hours.

Greece launched a tender last week to sell off Olympic, which loses about 1 million euros ($1.36 million) a day. Union leaders have pledged to halt the sale despite government promises to compensate or find new public sector jobs for its workers.

The ruling conservative New Democracy party, which has fallen behind in the polls, pledged last week to push through reforms and privatisations despite fierce opposition from unions.

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