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Greek infrastructure shuts down as labor union strikes grip Athens

In Greece, labor unions are voicing their displeasure amidst an inaugural round of general strikes this year as Prime Minister Antonis Samara’s coalition government implements a fresh round of austerity measures in an environment that is already crippled by record unemployment.

Public schools, ferries, trains, along with most transport and government services were abruptly shut down today given the midday protests planned in the heart of central Athens by the country’s public and private-sector trade unions. In particular, Greek civil aviation workers are executing an eight-hour work stoppage, which prompted widespread delays and cancellations at the country’s major airports.

In the transportation sector, Athens bus and trolley workers are also holding walkouts during the day while the Athens metro has maintained its operation in hopes of ferrying protesters to the city center. Indeed, fresh cuts in pensions and wages as well as tax rises have come on the heels a wave of austerity measures that have led the country to a sixth year of recession, with unemployment hovering around the 27% figure.

Perhaps more worrying for future growth is the jobless rate among Greeks between the ages of 15 to 24, which now stands at a staggering 61.7%, the Hellenic Republic’s statistical service said on February 14 – this marks the highest in the 27-nation European Union.

“We are fighting for measures to halt unemployment, for jobs for all, to protect our democratic and workers’ rights,” wrote the Greek General Confederation of Labor, the country’s largest private-sector union. The strike is the latest bulwark from unions to Samaras, who have relied on emergency decrees twice in the past month to end walkouts by metro and ferry workers prompted by the spending cuts and tax increases required to keep funds flowing to the country. Samaras recently clinched an agreement from euro area finance ministers to ease terms on emergency loans in return for the budget measures in November. Greece has received €240 billion in loan pledges from the euro area and International Monetary Fund since 2010 and carried out the biggest sovereign debt restructuring in history last year to avert a collapse.

Forex: EUR/USD falls back to 1.3390/1.3400

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