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General strike shuts down services across Greece

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November 6, 2013 03:35 AM EST | AP

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Services across Greece were shutting down Wednesday as unions held a 24-hour general strike to protest further austerity cuts in the cash-strapped country.

The strike disrupted public transport, halted ferry and train services, shut down courts, state-run schools and left state hospitals and the ambulance service functioning with emergency staff.

Dozens of flights were canceled or rescheduled as air traffic controllers were to walk off the job for three hours from noon in support of the labor action. Two separate protest marches were scheduled for central Athens midmorning.

Greece has been surviving on international rescue loans from the International Monetary Fund and other European countries that use the euro since 2010, after a combination of dismal financial stewardship, loss of investor confidence and the global recession brought it to the brink of bankruptcy. Successive governments have passed repeated rounds of deep spending cuts and tax hikes to secure 240 billion euros ($324 billion dollars) in bailout loans.

The strike is taking place as the government holds talks with debt inspectors from the IMF, European Central Bank and European Commission, known collectively as the troika, over what measures are needed to plug a budget gap next year.

Greece and the troika differ over the size of the gap. Athens maintains the shortfall will be around 500 million euros and can be plugged relatively easily, but Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras has conceded creditors expect the gap to be five times as big.

At stake is Greece's next bailout installment of 1 billion euros ($1.35 billion).