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Greek unions call strike to protest cuts

ATHENS — Greek unions stepped up their opposition Wednesday to a new round of austerity measures promised to the country’s foreign creditors, calling a 24-hour general strike for Tuesday while local government employees occupied city buildings to protest plans for wage cuts and layoffs.

The country’s two largest unions, which represent about 2.5 million workers, called the fourth general strike of the year to protest a new raft of economic changes, including a contentious streamlining of the country’s civil service. The government submitted the changes to Parliament for debate late Tuesday, and a vote was expected by July 19.

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“Let the government and the troika finally understand that we are people and we won’t become numbers,’’ the GSEE private sector union said in a statement, referring to Greece’s three international creditors: the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.

Despite strong union opposition, the government must push the changes into law if it is to clinch the first installment of a $8.7 billion aid payment approved Monday by the 17 finance ministers of the eurozone countries.

Greece’s foreign lenders are meting out the aid in doses to keep the pressure on Athens to deliver on pledges.

The changes that have fueled the most vehement protests are plans for layoffs in the civil service by the end of next year and a so-called mobility plan that would give reduced pay to 12,500 public sector workers for eight months before transferring them to other positions or laying them off.

Municipal police officers, school janitors, and teachers would be among the first to be affected by the program. Municipal police officers occupied offices in Athens on Tuesday, while other local authority employees, including street cleaners, met to plan protests.

Last month, a decision by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to close the state broadcaster, ERT, putting some 2,700 people out of work, led the junior partner in the coalition to quit, shaking the stability of the fragile government. The upheaval illustrates just how difficult it will be for the authorities to slash the civil service payroll.

Dismissed ERT workers have continued to occupy the broadcaster’s headquarters, running a pirate broadcast via satellite. Negotiations have stalled between the former employees and a new minister installed in a cabinet shake-up last month to oversee the creation of a new state broadcaster. The minister, Pantelis Kapsis, blamed the breakdown on “10 ERT unionists.”

Also Wednesday, an interim channel called Greek Public Television, or EDT, began transmitting its logo on ERT’s old frequency. Kapsis said that the channel would start airing films and documentaries “in the next few hours” and that an unspecified number of people would be hired for a temporary news program until the debut of the new broadcaster, to be known as Nerit, in the coming months.

The former ERT employees were defiant, dismissing the interim broadcaster as “an illegal creation.”

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