Protesting truck drivers refuse to back down

More than 2,000 truck drivers caused traffic chaos in central Athens yesterday after converging for a protest rally outside Parliament, where lawmakers were discussing controversial reforms to open up their sector to competition, due to be voted into law today. Police stopped the truckers from driving their vehicles into the city center, as some had planned to do, but hundreds left their trucks parked alongside highways on the outskirts of the city. Around 2,500 demonstrators joined a march that started at Omonia Square and culminated outside Parliament. Minor scuffles between police and demonstrators led to the temporary removal of the two elite Evzone guards from their posts in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Officers fired tear gas to disperse the crowds at one point but the tension was quickly defused. By nightfall a few dozen protesters remained outside Parliament, in a sit-down protest that they promised to continue through the night and today, when lawmakers are expected to vote the bill into law. Unionists said yesterday that they would continue their opposition to the implementation of the reforms, which they say will devalue their operating licenses and force thousands out of the sector as new truckers come in. Transport Minister Dimitris Reppas stuck to his guns, saying that authorities would implement the reforms as of 2013, as planned. «There is no country in the European Union with a restricted freight market. Greece is the only exception,» Reppas told state radio, adding that the government had «decided unanimously decided to press ahead with this policy.» The truck drivers’ work stoppage, which enters its ninth day today, has yet to affect fuel supplies at gas stations. But supplies of other goods have been hit. In Thessaloniki, pharmaceutical wholesalers were reportedly running low on supplies yesterday. On many Aegean islands and other parts of the country, stores are low on basic supplies. Meanwhile, at the country’s main port of Piraeus, more than 3,000 containers are waiting to be collected.

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