NEWS

Minister to meet cabbies in bid to resolve impasse

Striking taxi drivers are due to meet with Transport Minister Yiannis Ragousis on Friday morning in a bid to resolve their dispute with the government over its liberalization policy.

?We will not stop unless we are vindicated in our cause,? taxi unionist Konstantinos Yiannakis told Skai TV.

Prime Minister George Papandreou made his first public attempt Thursday to defuse the government?s dispute with taxi drivers, which is threatening to become an embarrassing distraction for PASOK.

Speaking to MPs from his ruling party, Papandreou said the government was committed to opening up so-called closed professions but that it would listen to what those affected by the changes have to say.

?The liberalization of the closed professions will happen with rules and dialogue,? he said. He added that the government was prepared to listen to any suggestions the cabbies may have.

This was a much more conciliatory line than the one taken by Transport Minister Yiannis Ragousis in recent weeks. Ragousis announced a total liberalization of taxis just weeks after his predecessor, Dimitris Reppas, had announced a deregulation plan that would have placed a limit on the number of taxi licenses that would be issued. Ragousis has since held fruitless talks with the cabbies, who have protested by closing access to roads, ports and airports.

On Thursday, about 2,000 taxi drivers demonstrated at the port of Piraeus, preventing coaches carrying cruise passengers from leaving for tours of Athens. Some drivers also threw oil on the road in what they said was an attempt to ensure that they were not pursued by motorcycle-riding policemen.

Since cabbies started their protests almost two weeks ago, more than 5,500 have been charged with offenses by authorities.