Greek truckers clash with riot police


Greek truckers defied an emergency government order to lift their strike today and return to work, postponing a decision on what to do until tomorrow.

Greece's 33,000 hauliers walked out on Monday to protest against government plans to slash the price of new licenses, a key liberalisation reform prescribed in a multi-billion euro EU/IMF bailout plan for the debt-laden country.

They risk criminal persecution and loss of license after the goverment evoked emergency powers yesterday to order them to get back behind the wheel, citing public health risks from the lack of food, fuel and medicines delivered to retailers.

Police used tear gas to disperse striking fuel-truck drivers today after a government emergency ordered them back to work.

Around 500 drivers gathered in protest outside the transport ministry in Athens, but the incident ended quickly.

Most petrol stations around the country remained closed after a crippling three-day strike that has hit the tourism industry and led to some factory closures and fresh food shortages.

Drivers oppose plans to liberalise their tightly regulated profession - part of major reforms required for Greece to receive rescue loans from European countries and the International Monetary Fund.

The EU-IMF plan requires Greece to open up road freight to increased competition by September and to adopt legislation to liberalise other closed professions such as lawyers and architects by June 2011.

The reforms will mean the drivers will no longer be able to sell their business licenses privately, sometimes for as much as €150,000 devaluing the initial investment they made.

“We came here to talk to the (transport) minister and look how they are treating us. We are hard working people and we want a solution to our problems,” striking union leader Giorgos Tzortzatos said.

IMF and European auditors are in Athens to inspect the progress of the belt-tightening reforms that have already seen pensions and civil servants’ salaries slashed and the welfare system tightened.

The inspection is required before Greece receives in mid-September the second instalment of loans from the rescue fund worth up to €110 billion from the IMF and the EU.