Pensions strike to paralyze country

The country is set to grind to a halt today as public transport and state services shut down, joining a 24-hour general strike launched by unions in opposition to the government’s planned pension reforms. Bus services will be suspended all day. Trolley buses will operate from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. while the metro, tram and urban electric railway (ISAP) will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. No aircraft will leave or arrive at Athens International Airport as air traffic controllers join the strike. Ports will not be served either. Public service offices and banks will remain closed, as will schools. Hospitals will only handle emergency cases. Engineers and lawyers will be staying at home too. And there will be a media blackout as journalists join the action. Traffic will be restricted in central Athens as two protest rallies are planned. The main one is to begin at 11 a.m. at the Pedion tou Areos and culminate outside Parliament. The second rally is to be held in Omonia Square. The adverse weather forecast for tomorrow – it is expected to snow in central Athens – will probably result in a smaller turnout than the last general strike in December, which attracted some 100,000 protesters. Employment and Social Security Minister Fani Palli-Petralia reportedly gave Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis her proposals for pensions reform. Karamanlis is to unveil the final proposal on Friday.