ATHENS (AFP) – Thousands of striking Greek public sector workers took to the streets Wednesday, closing hospitals, schools and transport links, bringing many parts of the country to a standstill.
In the latest round of strikes, civil servants marched through the capital against a job redeployment scheme demanded by Greece's EU-IMF creditors in return for access to bailout loans, and likely to bring additional layoffs in the recession-hit country.
Banners were held aloft by protesters reading,"No to layoffs" and "No to the dissolution of public services".
"They will abolish permanence and sell whatever they can from the public property, be it schools, hospitals, social insurance funds," said Christos Vagenas, a 39-year-old civil servant.
"Essentially, everything will be given to the private sector," he told AFP.
The protests were held in a tense climate following the killing hours earlier of a left-wing artist allegedly by a suspected member of neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn.
Pavlos Fyssas, a 34-year-old hip hop singer, was stabbed to death early on Wednesday morning in the western Athens district of Keratsini outside a cafeteria, in an apparent ambush.
Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou blamed the incident squarely on Golden Dawn, condemning the group's "raw violence" and calling on other parties to "raise a barrier to the vicious circle of tension and violence".
Police said a 45-year-old alleged member of the Golden Dawn neo-Nazi group arrested at the scene of the killing had confessed to stabbing Fyssas, who wrote music under the nickname Kilah P.
"The suspect confessed his act and also admits that he has a specific political affiliation," police spokesman Christos Parthenis told a news conference.
Parthenis added that "offices and homes" apparently belonging to Golden Dawn were being searched by police in connection to the murder.
Speaking to reporters, the victim's father said Fyssas had been "hunted down" by a group of assailants and dealt a "professional" stab blow.
Golden Dawn immediately denied any connection, but the incident -- a few days after a group of Communists were beaten by suspected neo-Nazis -- was likely to inflame tensions in Greece where anger is simmering over four years of austerity cuts.
At least 2,000 Communist unionists demonstrated in Athens on Wednesday, rejecting the government cuts but also shouting anti-fascist slogans.
"Block the fascists in every quarter," the crowd chanted.
Wednesday's protests followed strikes earlier in the week. On Monday, at least 17,000 teachers and civil servants took to the streets to protest against plans for massive public sector redeployments and layoffs.
On Tuesday, hospital workers and lawyers joined the demonstrations.
The latest two-day strike over the job overhaul was called by Greece's union of civil servants, ADEDY.
The country's main union GSEE also ordered a four-hour work stoppage and journalists walked off the job until midday in support.
Overall, Greece has pledged to axe 4,000 state jobs and redeploy 25,000 public sector workers by the end of the year, in return for its much-needed rescue loans.
Civil servants have to accept new posts or spend eight months on reduced salaries as alternative posts are found, with the risk of losing their jobs altogether.
Hard hit by the economic crisis, Greece is experiencing a sixth year of continuous recession and has a staggering 27 percent unemployment rate.
Conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who heads a fragile coalition with the socialists, this week said the Greek economy is likely to need another six years to return to pre-crisis levels.
Samaras's party is struggling in the polls, with the anti-austerity leftist party Syriza vying with the conservatives for first place.
Despite its implication in violent incidents, Golden Dawn ranks third in opinion polls, capitalising on the country's recession plight and widespread anger towards mainstream parties for failing to tackle decades of corruption.
National elections are not scheduled to be held in Greece for another three years, but there is strong speculation regarding an early ballot in 2014.