ATHENS, Greece – Disabled people and patients with chronic illnesses from around Greece protested in central Athens Friday against austerity measures as the government races to clinch a new deal with bailout lenders.
Protesters in wheelchairs carried black balloons while deaf demonstrators wore white gloves as they used sign language to join chants of anti-government slogans.
Disabled groups are seeking exemptions from budget austerity measures imposed under the country's international bailout agreements.
Unemployment among people with disabilities was more than double the national jobless rate of 23 percent with poverty levels also sharply higher, according to Yannis Vardakastanis, head of the National Confederation of Disabled People of Greece.
"We want to live in dignity," Vardakastanis, who is blind, told the AP. "It's the obligation of the government and European institutions to stop us from being further isolated, impoverished and discriminated against."
Greece is currently finalizing a new package of economic measures that would make home foreclosures and business firings easier. The measures are required in exchange for new bailout loan payouts and talks on debt relief measures.
Eurozone finance ministers are to review progress on the Greek program in Brussels on Monday.
The left-led government has struggled to meet strict conditions for the release of more funds under the country's third international bailout. Greece has relied on bailout rescue loans since 2010, and in return has had to overhaul its economy and implement painful spending cuts and tax hikes.
In a protest against increased taxes, ferries across Greece were tied up in port for two days as seamen walked off the job.
Ferry services were cancelled for 48 hours from Friday morning until Sunday morning, leaving many of the country's islands cut off from the mainland and from each other.
Seamen are protesting government proposals their union says would abolish tax breaks for their profession, setting income tax at 45 percent in addition to an existing 10 percent special tax.
Follow Gatopoulos at http://www.twitter.com/dgatopoulos and Becatoros at http://www.twitter.com/ElenaBec