Strike action as Greece braces for cuts announcement


State workers in Greece are staging a protest strike as the government finalises plans to reduce debt by a massive sale of state assets.

Unions fear privatisation would lead to job losses, and those on strike include public transport workers, journalists and public service TV technicians.

The government is expected to adopt the plans later in the day.

International lenders say the cuts are necessary if Greece is to continue receiving financial support.

Earlier, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said the current aid package for Greece was insufficient, and there was a "real risk" of default if further funds were not released soon.

A 110bn euro (£161bn; £98bn) Greek bail-out package was agreed last year.

For the past two weeks, nightly protest rallies have been held outside parliament, in the main square of the capital Athens, where a tent city has been erected.

On Sunday, an estimated 50,000 people attended.

A general strike has been called for 15 June.
Protest march
Motorcyclists demonstrate in front of parliament during a rally against the cuts on Syntagma Square in Athens, 8 June Protesters have been rallying outside parliament for some two weeks

On Thursday, workers on the Athens metro and bus service left their jobs during the morning rush hour, and the national railway system was also down.

Staff at ports, post offices and banks were also expected to withdraw their labour.

Workers from companies earmarked for privatisation held a protest march through the city, their number put at between a few hundred and 2,000. Pensioners also demonstrated.

One banner held aloft by dock workers read: "We say 'no' to selling out the country."

Most analysts are convinced the loss-making state railway system will only be attractive to potential buyers if large parts of the network are closed down, the BBC's Malcolm Brabant reports from Athens.

The strike comes at a time of increasing speculation that Prime Minister George Papandreou may be planning a cabinet reshuffle to try to force through changes, he adds.

Some newspapers are predicting that one of the potential victims of a reshuffle could be the Finance Minister, George Papaconstantinou.

He has come under attack from a rebel group of MPs within the socialist governing party Pasok who are angry that the administration is giving in to the demands of EU and IMF lenders.
Next tranche

At the end of last week, EU ministers and the IMF said the next tranche of the bail-out would be paid, most likely in July.

Reports also suggested a new, extended bail-out was being finalised.

Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the group of eurozone finance ministers, said he thought extra help was likely, in exchange for additional deficit-cutting measures implemented by Athens.

Finance ministers are due to meet again on 19 and 20 June.

On Wednesday, official figures showed Greece's unemployment rate had risen to 16.2% in March, up from 15.9% in February.

The number of people out of work was 811,340, a rise of 40% on the 578,723 unemployed a year earlier.

The unemployment rate among 15-24 year olds was 42.5%
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