Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis yesterday invited striking teachers for talks today as pupils' parents protested outside the Education Ministry, calling for schools to reopen after more than six weeks of industrial action. Leading unionists representing primary and secondary schools as well as universities are due to meet the premier in the Maximos Mansion at 11 a.m. today. Education Minister Marietta Giannakou is also due to attend the talks. Sources told Kathimerini that Karamanlis will express the government's willingness to channel a significant portion of the next tranche of European Union funding into education but will also stress that state cash is restricted. «Karamanlis does not have any aces up his sleeve... but he has an honorable and realistic approach to (teachers') problems,» an aide close to the premier told Kathimerini. But government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos was more direct. «The prime minister will ask the teachers straight out to return to their schools,» he said. «We do not expect teachers and lecturers to be satisfied but for the matter to end there. We simply want to clarify, from the highest possible level, the nature of the economic situation,» he said. Teachers, for their part, were yesterday cautiously optimistic. «This meeting is a very significant initiative which we intend to use to set out our demands, for which we expect solutions,» the president of the Primary School Teachers' Federation (DOE), Dimitris Bratis, told Kathimerini. «We are going to insist on free, state education,» he added. «We expect essential steps toward fulfilling our demands,» said Grigoris Kalomiris, general secretary of the Federation of Secondary School Teachers (OLME), whose members have been striking on and off for the past month. DOE members have been striking for six consecutive weeks. The main demands teachers are due to press today are a 45 percent rise in starting salaries (to 1,400 euros) and a hike in education sector funding to the tune of 5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Teachers and students are to stage rallies in Athens and Thessaloniki at noon tomorrow while university staff are to stage a 24-hour strike and the civil servants' union ADEDY launches a four-hour work stoppage from 11 a.m.