Greece faces general strike over state job cuts

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Unions opposing austerity measures in Greece staged their fourth general strike this year on Tuesday, as the government prepared to start axing public sector jobs.

Several thousand protesters, most wearing caps to shield themselves from the midsummer heat, joined a peaceful march to parliament, as the 24-hour walkout disrupted flights, public transport, state hospitals and other services. More demonstrations are planned later in the day, while local government offices remain closed for a second day.

"The government ... is using the bailouts as an excuse to get rid of any labor rights we have left," construction worker Costas Lavretzos said.

The public sector has so far been spared from the job cuts that have hit the rest of the Greek economy — and pushed unemployment up to 27 percent — since the country got its first international bailout in 2010.

However, the government has been forced to launch the cuts — 15,000 firings by the end of 2014 and 12,500 transfers this year — so it can continue receiving rescue loans from the International Monetary Fund and the other countries using the euro.

Parliament began a debate on the new measures before a vote expected late Wednesday.

"It's a disgrace for the government to say that things are getting better with unemployment at such a high level ... It is clear that with the economy still shrinking that we need a change of course," Efklidis Tsakalotos, a lawmaker from the left-wing main opposition party Syriza told parliament.

"The people running this country live in a different environment. They go to different hospitals. Their kids go to different schools. And they don't understand what people are going through."

Formed after elections last summer, the conservative-led government lost a junior coalition partner last month following a sudden decision to shut down state broadcaster ERT.

"The general strike is unlikely to succeed in its aim of forcing the government to withdraw its latest reform bill or convincing enough MPs to vote against it," said Martin Koehring, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

"(But it) once again demonstrates the strong anti-austerity sentiment among the population."

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