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Greek unemployment rate hits record 27 percent as recession rolls on, poverty spreads

Unemployment in Greece rose to a record 27 percent in November as separate surveys on Thursday showed the country remains stuck in recession and predicted nearly a third of the population would be in poverty by the end of the year.

The Statistics Agency said unemployment increased from a rate of 26.6 percent in October and 20.8 percent in November the previous year. More than 30,000 people lost their job in November, the agency said, with the jobless rate accelerating from earlier in the year.

Worst affected are the young, with 61.7 percent of adults under the age of 24 without a job.

Greece is mired in the sixth year of a recession, and has been relying for nearly three years on international rescue loans to keep it afloat. In return for the bailout, the government has imposed major spending cuts and tax hikes which have hammered the economy, causing an increase in poverty and forcing thousands of businesses to close.

The economy contracted a further 6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012 from the previous year, the statistics agency reported Thursday. That followed annual contractions of 6.7, 6.4 and 6.7 percent in the previous three quarters of 2012.

New tax hikes that went into effect this month have added further pressure on the shrinking workforce: 3.6 million Greeks remain employed, but 3.3 million are registered as inactive and 1.35 million are unemployed, according to the November figures.

A study by Greece's largest labor union, GSEE, released this week projected that 3.9 million out of Greece's total population of nearly 11 million will be officially living in poverty by the end of the year, compared with 3.1 million in 2011. The poverty line in Greece is set at a personal income of less than €7,200 ($9,700) per year.

Several hundred pensioners marched to the Labor Ministry in heavy rain Thursday to protest the new tax increases.

"We are not just talking about some problems. They are taking our lives away," Dimos Koumbouris, leader of Greece's main pensioners association, told the AP.

"We can't pay our electricity bills, or the emergency taxes. We haven't enough for our medicines, and it's putting our lives in danger."

Unions have called a general strike for Feb. 20, protesting against the new tax hikes and a government decision to ax collective wage agreements in the public sector as part of an overhaul in pay scales for state-paid employees.

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Srdjan Nedeljkovic and Thanassis Stavrakis contributed to this report.