ECONOMY

Strike hits Cyprus trade

NICOSIA (Reuters) – Cypriot Finance Minster Michalis Sarris expressed concern for the island’s economy yesterday as truckdrivers entered their fifth day on strike. The five-day-old strike has paralyzed the island’s two ports and brought trade to a virtual halt. Sarris said the government was concerned over the serious repercussions in all sectors of the economy. «It worries us,» he told reporters. Private business associations estimate that if the strike continues into next week, it will cost the economy 10 million Cypriot pounds (-17.3 million) per day. It has already cost over 25 million pounds since the island’s two ports at Limassol and Larnaca have effectively been closed since Monday, they said. Ships docking at Limassol have been unable to pick up their cargoes and at least one left empty in the early hours of Thursday, port officials said. Following a counter-protest by worried citrus growers on Thursday, the striking truckers agreed to allow some shipments of fresh produce and live animals through to the ports. Construction has also been affected with two shiploads of iron stuck at Larnaca port. «This situation cannot continue. It is approaching tragic levels,» Agriculture Minister Photis Photiou said. «We are in danger of losing customers and already some clients have turned to competitor markets.» The truckdrivers are striking over the classes of licenses granted. They say the government continues to issue truck permits to private companies that serve their own businesses to the detriment of professional truckers. Sarris said the ministers of agriculture, justice and transport were meeting on whether the police should step in to secure the ports. «There are consultations to determine where the rights of the strikers end and where the rights of others begin,» he said. Loucas Demetriou, the representative of the truckers, told state radio the government’s handling of the licensing issue was to blame. «We are not to blame. This has been going on for three years. We suspended previous strikes and went to negotiate but our problems have still not been solved,» he said. Transport Minster Harris Thrassou said there would be no dialogue until the truckers called off their strike. «You cannot be part of a dialogue while the other is holding a pistol to your head,» he said.