September 11, 2012 / 12:11 PM / 5 years ago

Greek 'human chain' protest delays talks with lenders

ATHENS, Sept 11 (Reuters) - Greek unionists protesting austerity measures formed a human chain to block the entrance to the Labour Ministry on Tuesday, forcing a delay in talks between ministry officials and the country’s foreign lenders.

The talks with inspectors from the ‘troika’ of European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund were scheduled to start at 1000 GMT, but had yet to get under way over an hour later as the protesters refused to leave.

Dozens from the Communist-aflliated PAME union chanted anti-austerity slogans and unfurled banners reading “Troika, IMF, ECB - Get out of here!” outside the ministry’s main entrance.

“We’re trying to find a way to get the troika officials into the ministry,” a government official said.

The semi-official Athens News Agency said the meeting would start soon.

Angry Greeks are lining up a string of protests against a new round of belt-tightening demanded by the lenders as the price for continued aid to avoid bankruptcy.

The country’s two biggest unions say they plan a general strike this month, while teachers, tax officials and tourism workers are among various groups planning strikes and other work stoppages this week.

The package of EU/IMF-mandated spending cuts worth nearly 12 billion euros over the next two years will further slash wages and pensions of Greeks already reeling from previous rounds of austerity.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s government must push through the cuts to ensure the country gets its next round of bailout money, but has run into trouble on the issue with both troika officials and its own allies.

The troika wants Greece to toughen the package with a bolder plan to cut the public sector workforce, officials say. But Samaras has yet to convince his Socialist and leftist allies to agree to the package even without the troika’s suggestions to make it tougher.

The moderate Democratic Left party, a junior partner in Samaras’s fragile three-party coalition, outlined objections on Tuesday to plans for across-the-board cuts in holiday bonuses for pensioners and reductions in disability benefits.

It suggested replacing those measures with proposals to cut military spending and energy subsidies, and curbing waste in health spending.

Greece, which is struggling through its worst recession since World War II,, must present the new cuts plan at a meeting of euro zone finance ministers on Friday.

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