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Venizelos Slams Wave of Strikes as Assault on Greek Democracy

Oct. 14 (Bloomberg) -- Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said a wave of strikes and walkouts over the government’s plans to cut wages and pensions and dismiss about 30,000 employees is an assault on the country’s democracy.

“The picture we have seen over recent days is one of lawlessness,” Venizelos told lawmakers in Parliament in Athens today, in comments televised live on state-run Vouli TV. “Some believe that occupations, strikes, blackmail, pressure can lead to the satisfaction of vested interests to the detriment of the national interest.”

Greek customs workers declared a 10-day strike from today, threatening fuel supplies. They are the latest group of state employees to join the wave of walkouts ahead of approval by Parliament next week of new austerity measures that Prime Minister George Papandreou needs to qualify for international financing.

The Federation of Greek Customs Workers will hold five 48-hour strikes, according to a statement posted on the group’s website. The move will have an immediate and long-term negative effect on exporters and the Greek economy as no shipments will be customs-cleared, the Panhellenic Association of Exporters said in a statement.

Public transport was halted today for a third time this week. Workers were joined by taxi drivers who kept cabs home in opposition to the government lifting restrictions on their licenses. Finance Ministry workers continued to blockade the central Athens ministry building and plan to strike for 10 days from Oct. 17, complicating efforts by the government to collect taxes.

Doctors, Lawyers

“The state must operate,” Venizelos said. He said blocking access to offices such as the General Accounting Office were actions that struck at democratic rule.

Other groups on strike and planning strikes include lawyers, prison workers, port workers, bank employees, doctors and health staff and journalists at state-run television and radio.

The Health Ministry may declare rubbish that has been uncollected during a municipal workers’ strike a health hazard and employees may face jail terms of three months if they don’t immediately return to work, Skai news reported on its website, citing Deputy Health Minister Paris Koukoulopoulos. City workers have blocked access to city garages and garbage dumps around Greece, causing rubbish to pile up on streets.

Greece’s private and public sector unions have called a 48-hour general strike for Oct. 19, ahead of next week’s parliamentary vote on Papandreou’s legislation.

Venizelos has announced about 6.6 billion euros ($9.1 billion) in measures this year and next, including a property tax, to close a gap in government accounts that has appeared as the economy contracts. European Union and International Monetary Fund officials indicated this week Greece will qualify for an 8 billion-euro loan next month, part of a 110 billion-euro bailout to prevent the country from defaulting.

To contact the reporter on this story: Maria Petrakis in Athens at mpetrakis@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tim Quinson at tquinson@bloomberg.net

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