Greek unions hold general strike, plan rallies to protest new deep spending cuts

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A general strike Wednesday in Greece was halting flights, trains and ferries and paralyzing public services, as unions rally against major new spending cuts aimed at saving the country from bankruptcy.

All flights into and out of Greece stopped at midnight Tuesday. Schools, hospitals, tax offices and the Acropolis along with other ancient sites will be closed. There will be no news broadcasts, and shop owners have been called on to close their shutters during rallies.

More than 1,500 police will be on duty for Wednesday's two protest marches in central Athens — the first major demonstrations since the new measures were announced Sunday.

Public and private sector unions concede that the cash-strapped government was forced to slash spending to secure a vital euro110 billion loan package from European partners and the International Monetary Fund.

But they say low-income Greeks will suffer disproportionately.

"There are other things the (government) can do, before taking money from a retiree who earns euro500 ($660) a month," said Spyros Papaspyros, leader of the ADEDY civil servants' union.

Almost every big protest this year has been marred by violent clashes between protesters and police. Two months ago, rioters even chased ceremonial guards away from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside the parliament.

Discontent has intensified, as civil servants and pensioners face deep income cuts and consumer taxes have been increased again.

"People are very angry, and many outside Athens don't realize what has happened," said retired civil servant Spyros Antonopoulos, 78. "When they get their next check, they'll come to Athens with their children and grandchildren to protest.

"The way things are going, I won't buy any new clothes — I'll keep taking my trousers back to the tailor to get them patched up. ... I'll wear them inside out if I have to."