08/02/2011 05:40 am ET Updated Oct 02, 2011

Greek taxi strikers give tourists free ride

ATHENS (Reuters) - Striking Greek taxi drivers tried to placate angry tourists Tuesday, giving them a free ride into the western town of Patras and letting them enter a major archaeological site on the island of Crete without paying.

The protesters have been on strike for 16 days against government plans to issue new taxi licenses -- part of efforts to revive Greece's ailing economy by liberalizing restricted business sectors. Existing drivers say this will make their jobs unviable by reducing their take.

But the taxi-driver protests over the weekend, blocking major roads and airports and preventing tourists from visiting antiquities, caused a public outcry, with government and the tourism industry accusing them of crippling the country's top revenue earner at the height of the summer season.

Travelers arriving at major airports, including Athens, have had to use private drivers working clandestinely as cabs or public transport to get into town.

Taxi drivers did not block traffic Tuesday, limiting themselves to symbolic protests on the side of some roads. In the northern city of Thessaloniki they set alight a disused taxi.

Taxi owners in the western town of Patras gave arriving tourists a free ride into town, police said. Others occupied the entrance to the famous archaeological site of Knossos on Crete, allowing visitors to get in free of charge.

Removing restrictions on access to closed professions, including engineering and law, is a key condition for debt-laden Greece to continue receiving bailout funds from the EU and the International Monetary Fund which are vital to avoid it going bankrupt.

(Reporting by Harry Papachristou; Editing by Barry Moody)