Greek unions call general strike for Sept. 26

DEREK GATOPOULOS

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece's largest labor unions have called a general strike for Sept. 26 in response to a new government austerity package that is expected to worsen hardship in the recession-hit country.

The date of the 24-hour strike was decided Thursday, a General Confederation of Greek Labor spokeswoman said, adding that the strike would be joined by a civil servants' union.

Rescue creditors are demanding that Greece's conservative-led government slashes a further €11.5 billion ($14.8 billion) in budget costs over the next two years — resulting in a new round of wage and pension cuts — if the country is to continue getting vital bailout loans.

The austerity measures already imposed as part of this bailout deal have held back growth, pushing the country into a three-year recession. Government figures released Thursday reveal unemployment in Greece has risen further to 23.6 percent in the second quarter of 2012 — up from 16.3 percent the previous year.

Athens is seeking more time to fix public finances, arguing that austerity measures will be counterproductive if forced too swiftly on the country's weakened economy. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras took up the issue Thursday with visiting French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici.

About 200 disabled people gathered outside the Finance Ministry Thursday to protest proposed benefit cuts.

"What we are saying is obvious: Blind and disabled people are not to blame for this crisis," Paraskevas Lambrou, a blind man from the central Greek city of Volos, told the AP at the demonstration.

"It is humiliating to be driven into poverty this way," he said.