Greece hopes for debt re­lief as strikes hit ser­vices

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - MARKETPLACE - By Elena Be­ca­toros and Derek Gatopou­los

ATHENS, GREECE » Sev­eral thousand pro­test­ers — col­lege stu­dents, pen­sion­ers, civil ser­vants, and oth­ers — ral­lied in cen­tral Athens on Thurs­day against new aus­ter­ity mea­sures that have fur­ther bat­tered Greek in­comes.

A 24-hour strike by unions rep­re­sent­ing civil ser­vants and oth­ers saw fer­ries to and from Greek is­lands halted and pub­lic ser­vices dis­rupted. State-run hos­pi­tals and am­bu­lances were re­spond­ing only to emer­gency cases.

Greece’s left-wing gov­ern­ment is promis­ing to push through a huge new list of ad­min­is­tra­tive and cost-cut­ting re­forms, hop­ing to achieve bet­ter terms for re­pay­ment of its mas­sive bailout debts.

New re­forms in­clude lift­ing state pro­tec­tion for many dis­tressed mort­gage hold­ers, and chang­ing the rules for pri­vate sec­tor fir­ing and union fund­ing — slack­en­ing employment rights in a coun­try where nearly one-in-four re­main out of work and years of re­ces­sion have caused surg­ing poverty.

Bailout lenders, ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment, are also press­ing for fur­ther pen­sion cuts and a new round of job cuts in the civil ser­vice.

“We have to push back be­cause they are lead­ing us back to mid­dle ages in terms of labor rights,” Stavros Kiout­soum­belis, an ex­ec­u­tive of the civil ser­vants’ union ADEDY, said dur­ing Thurs­day’s protest.

Greece has been sur­viv­ing on res­cue loans from three in­ter­na­tional bailouts since 2010, when ris­ing bor­row­ing costs left it locked out of bond mar­kets.

Talks be­tween the gov­ern­ment and cred­i­tors are on hold, with Greece ac­cus­ing bailout hard­lin­ers of propos­ing cuts that would be a “so­cial dis­as­ter.”

Greece wants to over­come dif­fer­ences with lenders and the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund by early De­cem­ber to un­lock more funds and trig­ger debt re­lief talks.

The is­sue will be re­vis­ited next week when Euro­pean Finance Com­mis­sioner Pierre Moscovici vis­its Athens for meet­ings with Prime Min­is­ter Alexi Tsipras and top finance of­fi­cials. Moscovici’s two-day visit starts Monday.

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