No-frills Easter for Greeks

Greeks celebrated Orthodox Easter on Sunday in a manner befitting the country's crisis-hit economy with food and drink cutbacks and state expenses kept to a minimum.

Stung by higher transport costs and income falls, many opted to stay at home while a leading trade association said purchases for the country's foremost religious festival had been the poorest in a decade.

A tradition for political leaders to visit army barracks on Easter Sunday was also curtailed, with the exception of the head of state, Karolos Papoulias, who is lunched with paratroopers in the northern city of Naousa.

Still, most Greeks families served roast lamb for the traditional Sunday feast that brings the Lenten fast to a close.

"We're out of lamb and will soon be out of goat too,» Kleanthis Tsironis, head of the Athens meat market, told Flash Radio on Saturday.

And a government plane was sent to bring back the holy flame that burns in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jersualem, marking the resurrection of Christ, on Saturday.

Private carrier Aegean Airlines then took the flame on to Greece's second city of Thessaloniki and the islands of Corfu, Lesvos, Myconos, Santorini and Rhodes on scheduled flights.

Though 700,000 people drove out of the capital ahead of the four-day weekend this was a 46-percent fall from last year according to traffic police, while another 84,000 sailed from the main ports from Thursday, the coastguard said.

The exodus by ferry was stymied by a two-day sailors' strike during the week.

Salaries and pensions in Greece have been slashed by up to 40 percent in the last two years under an economic overhaul pursued by the debt-hit government in return for loans from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

Taxes have also been repeatedly hiked and over a million people are jobless according to official figures, with the economy mired in a fifth year of recession.

"We can say with certainty that Greeks are being put through the poorest Easter of the last decade,» the Confederation of Greek Commerce said in a statement this week.

The confederation said retail trade turnover was down 15 percent in the first two weeks of April when most Greeks stock up on preparations for the traditional feast on Easter Sunday.

Demand for clothes and shoes -- traditional Easter gifts for children -- fell by 18-21 percent while sales figures for food and drink were also down by around 10 percent, the confederation said. [AFP]