Daily protests clogging Greek capital, say police

Associated Press
Member of pro-communist union PAME chant anti austerity slogans outside the Greek parliament during a protest in Athens, Thursday, May 23, 2013. About 10,000 people joined a peaceful protest march in central Athens to demand the renewal of collective labor agreements that expire this year. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
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Member of pro-communist union PAME chant anti austerity slogans outside the Greek parliament during a protest in Athens, Thursday, May 23, 2013. About 10,000 people joined a peaceful protest march in central Athens to demand the renewal of collective labor agreements that expire this year. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Small protests are blocking streets in central Athens at a rate of twice a day, the government said Tuesday, as it sought support from unions to draw up new guidelines to keep traffic running.

Public Order Minister Nikolaos Dendias said that in 2012 traffic was stopped in Athens by 796 separate demonstrations, each attended by fewer than 200 people.

Dendias met the leader of Greece's largest union, the GSEE, and announced that the government planned to introduce legislation to prevent small public rallies from blocking traffic.

Although major protest rallies are now less frequent than at the start of the financial crisis in late 2009, small demonstrations remain common in a country that lost an average of nearly 700 jobs a day in 2012.

"I fully understand the great difficulties our citizens are enduring. And I respect their right to protest," Dendias said.

"But for every right, there is a limit. People also have the right to travel across the city and to engage in a basic level of economic activity."

Greece's retail sector has been hammered by harsh austerity measures that include widespread pay cuts and tax hikes, as well as the frequent demonstrations that are mostly directed against the government.

A study last year by the National Confederation of Greek Commerce, an association representing small and medium-sized businesses, found that 28 percent of retail stores in central Athens had closed during the crisis.

The country's tourism season is getting underway and the government hopes that strong bookings could help pull the economy out of recession, which is in its sixth consecutive year.

But unions on Tuesday angrily rejected the government's plans to curb demonstrations.

"No one wants to lose a day's pay ... but striking is the worker's last resort," Nikos Kioutsoukis, general secretary of the GSEE said.

"There are no unions that close off the historic center of Athens because it is their hobby."

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