Greece on verge of general strike

A general strike in Greece is imminent after parliament approves a bill on the reform of the private-sector pension system, raising the retirement age from 60 to 65.

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A general strike in Greece is imminent after deputies approved a bill on the reform of the private-sector pension system, voting to raise the retirement age from 60 to 65. Socialist deputies and two independents late yesterday backed the measure, considered a key plank of the government's programme adopted in May to pull the country out of its financial crisis. The move was opposed by right-wing and far-left parties, including the communists. The new measure also requires 40 years of payments into the pension fund instead of 37 years previously. After yesterday's vote in principle, the bill was to be debated article by article before a second vote on the entire package late today, parliament's speaker Philippos Petsalnikos said. The prime minister George Papandreou stressed the importance of the measure, arguing it was vital for the viability of the current pensions system and to ensuring its future. A second bill proposing the same retirement age for public sector workers has been scheduled for a parliamentary vote next week, finance minister George Papaconstantinou told a parliamentary committee earlier yesterday. Both public and private-sector unions have denounced the plans, and have called a general strike and protests for today. Dozens of flights through Greece will be disrupted by the strike that will also paralyse other forms of transport and public services, officials said. Greece's main flight operators Olympic Air and Aegean will ground 34 flights and reschedule another 45, including to several international destinations, the companies said. A four-hour work stoppage from 7am GMT by air traffic controllers will also affect other carriers. "Nothing will fly during that four-hour period," a spokeswoman at Athens International Airport said. Ports will be closed, trains will be halted and urban transport in Athens will come to a standstill from the labour mobilisation which will also shut down banks, post offices and public services. Hospitals will operate solely for emergencies and no news broadcasts will be made as journalists have joined the action. The strike is the sixth this year against a broad austerity policy imposed by the Socialist government as it struggles to deal with a debt crisis that pushed the country to the brink of insolvency in May. The pensions reform was one of the measures required by the eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund in return for the 110-billion-euro rescue package for Greece that was agreed in May. * AFP