suspended, motorways blocked as Greeks protest pensions reform
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[January 27, 2016]
ATHENS (Reuters) - Ferries were
docked at Greek ports on Wednesday as sailors kicked off their second
48-hour strike this week, adding to a groundswell of public discontent
over plans to reform the country's struggling pension system.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras launched a vocal defense of the plan
on Tuesday, saying that the country had no choice but to reform a
pension system which had created chronic deficits and would collapse
if left unchanged.
Greeks, many of whom will see contributions jump to about 20 percent
of monthly earnings to prop up the new pension system, have
responded angrily to the proposed changes, staging a series of
rallies and protests across the country in recent weeks.
Under the plan, which Greece must adopt for its international
lenders to complete their first review of its latest bailout, the
country's pension funds would be merged into one together with
cutbacks worth 1 percent of gross domestic product a year.
"We're striking because our main pension fund, the oldest in Greece,
will close," said Lefteris Saridakis, head of a union representing
staff on passenger ships.
He said the workers planned to step up action when the bill is
tabled in parliament next month.
Farmers who have been blocking motorways across the country on and
off for days in protest at planned to cut tax breaks for farming as
well as pensions remained defiant on Wednesday.
In a symbolic protest, they handed out about 50 tonnes of produce in
under an hour in a poor, working-class Athens neighborhood on
Wednesday, where a few hundred Greeks jostled with another for free
bags of potatoes, lettuce and fruit.
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Notaries also began a three-day strike on Wednesday, joining
lawyers, engineers, doctors and other self-employed professionals
who have taken to the streets against the measures.
Without pension reform, Athens cannot conclude the first review of
its compliance to terms of a bailout worth up to 86 billion euros
agreed last August, and move on with talks on potential debt relief,
which Tsipras sees as a vital prize.
Protests against the plan are expected to culminate with a general
strike by the country's two biggest unions, representing about 2.5
million workers, on Feb. 4.
(Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou and Alkis Konstantinidis; Editing
by Karolina Tagaris and Raissa Kasolowsky)
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