Taxi driver action fuels political row

A political row broke out within the government on Wednesday over planned reforms to the taxi drivers? sector following the collapse of talks between Transport Minister Yiannis Ragousis and unionists representing the cabbies who have been blocking airports, ports and roads for several days.

Ragousis refused the unionists? demands for a six-month grace period within which the planned reforms could be discussed.

The taxi drivers want Ragousis to revert to a law drafted by his predecessor, Dimitris Reppas, which set limits on the number of licenses that can be issued.

The minister insisted on Wednesday that the Reppas bill had not been approved by the rest of the Cabinet.

But Ragousis came under fire in Parliament from high-ranking members of ruling PASOK, including Citizens? Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis, for his position on the taxi drivers.

Compounding Ragousis?s woes, a group of 21 PASOK MPs asked for the planned reforms to be discussed by Parliament?s transport committee with his participation, expressing concerns about the impact of the cabbies? strike action on the country?s crucial tourism sector.

On Wednesday, taxi drivers blocked Crete?s Iraklio airport and the Rio-Antirio bridge for several hours. Also, in an apparent bid to refute claims that their action is harming tourism, cabbies occupied the ticket offices at Ancient Olympia, allowing visitors to enter for free.

Earlier in the day, taxi drivers clashed with police outside the Transport Ministry on Mesogeion Avenue, in northern Athens. Hundreds of angry cabbies threw stones and water bottles at riot officers, who fired tear gas to disperse them.