Jun 28, 2011, 4:26 GMT
Athens - Greece's largest unions began a 48-hour nationwide strike on Tuesday, paralysing transport and public services as lawmakers debated a new round of austerity measures in order to receive rescue loans to avoid bankruptcy.
Government offices and banks were shut and ferries anchored at ports across Greece. The walkout also halted train services, closed schools and public services, and left hospitals and ambulances operating with emergency staff only.
Even Greek journalists and actors at the state-operated theater joined the walkout.
Flights would be grounded for several hours both days during work stoppages by air traffic controllers from between 8 am to noon and 6 pm to 10:00 pm (0500-0900 GMT and 1500-1900 GMT).
More than 5,000 police will be stationed across the city center as workers from the public sector union ADEDY and private sector union GSEE begin rallies at 11:00 am (0800 GMT).
The latest strike is taking place just as Greece is seeking to pass a new austerity package worth 28 billion euros (41 billion dollars) in spending cuts and tax hikes by 2015 through parliament to secure continued funding from a 110-billion-euro international bailout package.
The European Union and International Monetary Fund have also made the approval of a four-year privatisation programme worth 50 billion euros a condition for releasing a 12-billion-euro loan installment which the government needs to repay maturing debt next month.
Greece's 300-member parliament began a three-day debate on the new austerity measures Monday, just as it received assurances that French banks are willing to defer Greek debt claims and ease pressure on the debt-ridden country.
Parliament is expected to vote on the austerity package on Wednesday, with implementation on Thursday if it is approved.
A 48-hour general strike is under way in Greece as the country's parliament debates a new round of austerity reforms that will help the bankruptcy-threatened government secure rescue loans.
The strike, which began on Tuesday, is set to disrupt or halt most public services.
The strike has been called by unions angry at a new €28bn ($40bn) austerity programme that would slap taxes on minimum wage earners and other struggling Greeks, following months of other cuts that have seen unemployment surge to more than 16 per cent.
"These measures are a massacre for workers' rights. It will truly be hell for the working man," said Thanassis Pafilis, a lawmaker with the Greek Communist Party that will lead one of Tuesday's main rallies.
"The strike must bring everything to a standstill."
Protesters will be joined by doctors, ambulance drivers, journalists and even actors at a state-funded theatre.
Public administration offices and banks will close their doors, hospitals will have reduced staffing and Greek media will down tools for five hours on each of the two days.
Trams and buses will not run in Athens, but metro drivers joined other employees on the subway system who decided not to strike "so as to allow Athenians to join the planned protests in the capital."
Flights will be grounded on both days during stoppages by air traffic controllers between 8am and midday and between 6pm and 10pm (0500-0900 GMT and 1500-1900 GMT).
The strike by air traffic controllers has already caused travel disruption with airlines Olympic Air and Aegean cancelling dozens of mainly internal flights, and rescheduling a series of international departures.
The move comes a day after French banks reached an outline agreement to roll over holdings of maturing Greek bonds as part of a wider European plan to avoid sovereign default.
George Papandreou, the prime minister, begged the Greek parliament late on Monday to do its "patriotic duty" and vote to keep the country "on its feet".
The package and implementation law must be passed by parliament this week so the European Union and the International Monetary Fund release the next installment of Greece's €110bn ($156bn) bailout loan.
Without it, Greece faces the prospect next month of becoming the first eurozone country to default on its debts - a potentially disastrous event that could drag down European banks and affect other financially troubled European countries.
Papandreou said he hoped the terms of a second bailout would be better than the first, which was agreed last year.
"I call on Europe, for its part, to give Greece the time and the terms it needs to really pay off its debt, without strangling growth, and without strangling its citizens," he said.