ATHENS, Greece – Greece’s beleaguered government is bracing for a 48-hour general strike as lawmakers debate a new round of austerity reforms designed to win the country additional rescue loans needed to avoid bankruptcy.
More than 5,000 police are to guard Athens’ city center today, with union protest rallies planned before the protestors head to parliament.
The strike is set to disrupt or halt most public services, with doctors, ambulance drivers, journalists and even actors at a state-funded theater joining the protest, which is to continue Wednesday.
Flights will be grounded both days during stoppages by air traffic controllers most of the day.
Unions are angry at a new $40 billion austerity program that would slap taxes on minimum wage earners and other struggling Greeks, following months of other cuts that have seen unemployment surge to more than 16 percent.
The package and implementation law must be passed in parliamentary votes this week so the European Union and the International Monetary Fund release the next installment of Greece’s $156 billion bailout loan. Without it, Greece faces the prospect next month of becoming the first eurozone country to default on its debts.
“These measures are a massacre for workers’ rights. It will truly be hell for the working man. The strike must bring everything to a standstill,” said Thanassis Pafilis, a lawmaker with the Greek Communist Party.
A three-day debate on the new austerity measures got under way in parliament Monday.