UPDATE 1-Greek anti-austerity strikes hit ferries, tourists

* Unionists block travellers from boarding at Piraeus port

* Ship engineers strike against pension, labour reforms

* 5,000 Communists march in central Athens

By Gina Kalovyrna and Lefteris Papadimas

ATHENS, June 23 (BestGrowthStock) – Communist unionists blocked
travellers from boarding ships at Greece’s largest port on
Wednesday, stranding tourist ferries as part of protests against
austerity measures in the debt-choked nation.

Tourist bookings are already down after strikes and
sometimes violent protests against wage cuts, pension and labour
reforms the socialist government is implementing in exchange for
a 110 billion euro ($147.6 billion) EU/IMF bailout package.

About 200 union members barred travellers from ferries at
Piraeus, the main Athens port, in sympathy with striking
merchant marine engineers and frustrating tourists heading for
the islands. And in Athens, 5,000 Communists staged a march.

“There are no ships leaving Piraeus port,” a coastguard
official said. Union members blocked the boarding ramps of the
ferries and planned to keep up their protest until midnight when
the engineers’ strike ends.

“It’s sad because honestly tourism is…a big part of
Greece’s economy,” said Isabella Cables, a stranded tourist from
North Carolina. “It’s only going to hurt the country.”

“I appreciate the situation that they are in, the workers,
but it is a disruption to everybody, a catch 22 I think,” said
Ron Donahue, an Australian tourist.

Communist protesters blame the crisis on politicians and say
workers have no choice but to oppose swingeing cuts that have
pushed unemployment to a 10-year high of 11.7 percent of the
workforce in the first quarter.


Affected were eight scheduled sailings to the popular
Cycladic islands, which include Mykonos and Paros, and others to
nearby destinations in the Argosaronic gulf. A ferry to Crete
was also cancelled.
Tourism is a top contributor to Greece’s 240 billion euro
($294 billion) economy, accounting for about 18 percent of GDP.

In the 5,000-strong march in Athens — in line with recent
turnout at Communist rallies — protesters carried banners such
as “Let the rich pay for the crisis”, while others urged Greece
to quit the euro zone.

“We are striking against the storm that is coming, the
changes in pensions and labour laws which will turn workers into
beggars,” said Yiannis Kouklis, 38, who works at a
pharmaceutical company. “Labour action will intensify.”

A one-day general strike is due on June 29 against pension
and labour reforms due to be submitted to parliament this week.

“Construction is dead, there is no work. Poor working folk
cannot be paying for the crisis caused by the rich and all those
who stole state money,” said Pavlos Koklas, 58, an unemployed
construction worker.

An opinion survey showed Greeks and Romanians were gloomier
about the outlook than all other Europeans. The Eurobarometer
poll, taken in May, showed that about 7 out of 10 Greeks
expected their household’s finances to worsen in the next year.

And the mood was not helped after the Greek soccer team were
knocked out of the World Cup finals on Tuesday after a 0-2 loss
to Argentina. “Greek national team fell fighting” and “the
goodbye tango” were among newspaper headlines.

(Additional reporting by Tatiana Fragou, Angeliki Koutantou,
Konstantinos Ampatzis; Writing by George Georgiopoulos and
Alister Doyle, editing by Diana Abdallah)

UPDATE 1-Greek anti-austerity strikes hit ferries, tourists