ATHENS, Greece -- Greek civil servants walked off the job Tuesday at the start of a 48-hour public sector strike, the second in as many weeks, to protest job cuts required for the country to continue receiving international rescue loans.
State school, tax office and hospital workers joined the strike, while ambulances services were to run with a reduced staff. Journalists joined in with a three-hour work stoppage, pulling any non-strike related news of the air.
But participation appeared low, with many services remaining open in central Athens, including post offices and some schools and tax offices.
Thousands of people marched peacefully, chanting anti-austerity slogans through the center of the capital and in the country's second-largest city of Thessaloniki in the north.
Greece has been dependent on billions of euros in rescue loans from other European countries that use the euro as their currency, and from the International Monetary Fund since May 2010. In return, it has had to overhaul its economy and impose harsh austerity measures, including slashing salaries and pensions, introducing new taxes and repeatedly increasing existing ones.
The rescue loans are paid in installments after the country passes an inspection of its progress in reforms by the European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF, collectively known as the troika. The latest inspection began this week, with troika representatives meeting with the finance minister Sunday. Their approval is need for Greece to get the next installment, worth (EURO)1 billion ($1.35 billion), in October.
Under the terms of its bailout, Greece's government must suspend 12,500 workers on reduced pay by the end of the month. Those who cannot be absorbed into other public sector positions will lose their jobs.
The plan has led to extensive strikes by high school teachers shortly after the new academic year began this month, and has seen heated opposition by other civil service unions.
Greece's economy has been battered by a deep recession, now in its sixth year, while unemployment has risen to the highest level in the EU, standing at above 27 percent, and at nearly 59 percent for those under the age of 25. The economy has shown small signs of improvement recently, however. Figures released Monday evening showed a primary budget surplus – income that excludes the cost of paying interest on debt – and a smaller deficit than targeted for.
The finance ministry's figures for the first eight months of the year showed Greece's state budget was posting a primary surplus of 2.86 billion euros ($3.86 billion), better than the target for a 2.49 billion-euro primary deficit.
The overall state budget deficit stood at 2.5 billion euros, compared with a target of 7.8 billion euros.