Striking pharmacists hold rally at Syntagma Square, protest liberalization

Pharmacists protesting the liberalization of their sector with a two-day strike gathered outside Parliament at Syntagma Square on Monday, waving banners and placards, and vowing more action unless the government withdraws its plans.

"The troika, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Development Ministry and major interests are being challenged by a sector that knows how to fight back," the Panhellenic Pharmacists' Union (PFS) said in a statement ahead of the rally.

The union added that the rate of participation in the strike, which began on Monday, has reached 100 percent on the first day.

Pharmacists are objecting to measures being urged by the country's creditors to open up the sector to competition by changing the rules governing where pharmacies can operate and by whom they can be run, as well as freeing up their opening hours.

The union has repeatedly expressed fears that the liberalization of pharmacies will make small businesses owned by individual pharmacists vulnerable to competition from large pharmacy chains.

It also objects to a recommendation made by the OECD for over-the-counter medicines to be sold at supermarkets.

The majority of Greece's 11,000-plus pharmacies are individually owned by certified chemists who depend a lot on neighborhood trade and sales of over-the-counter drugs and personal care products to remain in business.

Also, customers often enjoy a close relationship with their local chemist, who knows their medical history in great detail.

Meanwhile, speaking on Vima FM radio, Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis appeared confident that a solution on the issue of over-the-counter medicines will be reached, saying that his ministry is against their liberalization even though jurisdiction for this decision lies with the Development Ministry.

"The government is a single body and the final decision lies with the prime minister," said Georgiadis, referring to the decision of whether to adopt the recommendation by the OECD, which is part of a "tool kit" it drafted for Greece to help it boost competition in various sectors.