The effort to collect mounds of garbage across central Athens began last night, as municipal contract workers ended their strike, although they threatened to start a new round of action in the new year. It is estimated that some 9,000 tons of rubbish has gathered on the streets of Athens over the past three weeks during which refuse collectors on short-term contracts were on strike most days, demanding that their positions be made permanent by the City of Athens. However, the 850 garbage men, who were supported by some 1,600 full-time refuse collectors, decided yesterday to abandon their protest after a second court deemed the strike illegal and threatened the refuse collectors with prison and a daily fine of 1,000 euros each. Even though the garbage men went back to work last night, it is expected that it will take them 16 days to collect all the trash that has built up during the strike. Furthermore, the municipal employees are threatening more action in the near future. «We want to send a message to [Interior Minister Yiannis] Ragousis: He will have to deal with us in the new year,» said the head of the POP-OTA union Panagiotis Velentzas. «Athenians can enjoy a Christmas and New Year without rubbish but we definitely will not enjoy the holidays, as we will be working.» The end of the strike did not signal an end to the war of words between Athens Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis, who announced this week that he will seek re-election next year, and Ragousis. Kaklamanis accused Ragousis of failing to deal with the demands of the strikers, while the minister lambasted the mayor for supporting their demands. «Athens will be ready to celebrate Christmas but, because those who should apologize for this inconvenience will not, I will do so on behalf of everyone,» said Kaklamanis in a pointed comment.