NEWS

Strike over pensions to halt services

As thousands of workers walked off their jobs yesterday, paralyzing public transport, government officials played down today's nationwide general strike over proposed pension reforms, predicting that rising tensions would ease after the controversial reform bill is voted on in Parliament tomorrow. Yesterday's strike was a prelude to today's more widespread action which will see all public transport seriously disrupted (only the metro and Piraeus-Kifissia electric railway, or ISAP, will operate between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.). Flights will be canceled and gas stations will shut up shop. Schools and banks will be closed, hospitals will operate on emergency staff and there will be a media blackout as journalists join the action. Power cuts are also expected as electricity board employees walk off the job and trash piles will continue to mount as garbage collectors continue their protest. The government yesterday sought to appease tensions, which have intensified following a wave of labor strikes and rallies, by toning down language critical of protesters. Government spokesman Theo-doros Roussopoulos refrained from assessing the stance of workers, remarking, «We will not underestimate anyone's intelligence but no one should underestimate the efforts being made by the government.» The general impression in government circles, sources told Kathimerini, is that protests will wane - if not stop completely - following the approval of the bill. Overall, the ruling New Democracy party appeared confident that the controversial bill will be voted through tomorrow, despite its slim majority of 151 in the country's 300-seat Parliament. Labor Minister Fani Palli-Petralia yesterday evening described the bill in Parliament as «a well-designed solution» that she stressed would «safeguard insured citizens.» «Either we look at the problem head on and solve it or we leave it, as previous governments have done, to the detriment of citizens,» she said. But opposition parties continued their criticism of the government. Alekos Alavanos, the former president of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), even proposed a «counter-bill.» Alavanos said his alternative solution was based on a 12-point plan whose basic principles include the redistribution of social wealth and the exploitation of pension funds' assets. A survey carried out by polling firm VPRC, whose results were made public yesterday, showed that 71 percent of the public objects to the proposed reforms and 69 backs the strikes.

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