NEWS

Athens hit by taxi and fuel strike

Athenians and tourists will be queuing up for buses and walking today in greater numbers than usual, not just because it is Europe’s annual «Car Free Day,» nor because of any new-found confidence in the public transport system, but because they have been hit by the double whammy of an indefinite gasoline station lockup and a four-day strike by taxi drivers. Gas station owners have called an indefinite nationwide strike, starting at 6 a.m. today, to protest at the government’s demand that they install cash registers on their pumps in an effort to end tax evasion and the use of contraband fuel. Representatives of gas station owners will meet with Finance Ministry General Secretary Giorgos Kanellopoulos at noon today, while union members will demonstrate outside the ministry on Syntagma Square. As word of the strike spread, hundreds of motorists queued up at the 700 gas stations that were open across Attica, causing serious disruption to traffic over a wider area around each station. With supplies running out, many of the stations had closed by 7 p.m., instead of the normal 9 p.m. for those open on Sundays. Athens’s SKAI radio station reported complaints that some gas stations had raised their price for unleaded gasoline ahead of the strike. Union representatives and the government yesterday traded charges over the ostensible causes of the strike. Gas station owners said that the Finance Ministry had promised on September 9 to allow them to buy cash registers after August 30. Now, they say, the financial crimes squad (SDOE) has been notified to ignore this and to carry out inspections of gas stations. But Finance Minister Kanellopoulos protested that the strike was called ahead of today’s scheduled talks. «Whatever was agreed upon 10 days ago will be kept to,» he told NET state television. «Small stations have a year’s extension, up to September 30, 2004, to install cash registers… No inspections will be carried out until the last station has installed them.» Taxi drivers, who will be on strike from 5 a.m. today until 5 a.m. Friday, are protesting at having to intall cash registers. They also want higher fares and the right to use bus lanes.