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Greece hopes for debt relief as strikes hit services

Associated Press Associated Press 24/11/2016 By ELENA BECATOROS and DEREK GATOPOULOS, Associated Press
Workers of public sector chant slogans during a 24-hour strike in Athens, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016. The country's largest civil servants union called a 24-hour strike for Thursday, arguing that mass staff cuts could not continue. Hundreds of protesters marched through the center of Athens in a peaceful demonstration. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis) © The Associated Press Workers of public sector chant slogans during a 24-hour strike in Athens, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016. The country's largest civil servants union called a 24-hour strike for Thursday, arguing that mass staff cuts could not continue. Hundreds of protesters marched through the center of Athens in a peaceful demonstration. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

ATHENS, Greece — Several thousand protesters — college students, pensioners, civil servants, and others — rallied in central Athens on Thursday against new austerity measures that have further battered Greek incomes.

A 24-hour strike by unions representing civil servants and others saw ferries to and from Greek islands halted and public services disrupted. State-run hospitals and ambulances were responding only to emergency cases.

Greece's left-wing government is promising to push through a huge new list of administrative and cost-cutting reforms, hoping to achieve better terms for repayment of its massive bailout debts.

New reforms include lifting state protection for many distressed mortgage holders, and changing the rules for private sector firing and union funding — slackening employment rights in a country where nearly one-in-four remain out of work and years of recession have caused surging poverty.

Bailout lenders, according to the government, are also pressing for further pension cuts and a new round of job cuts in the civil service.

"We have to push back because they are leading us back to middle ages in terms of labor rights," Stavros Kioutsoumbelis, an executive of the civil servants' union ADEDY, said during Thursday's protest.

Greece has been surviving on rescue loans from three international bailouts since 2010, when rising borrowing costs left it locked out of bond markets.

Talks between the government and creditors are on hold, with Greece accusing bailout hardliners of proposing cuts that would be a "social disaster."

Greece wants to overcome differences with lenders and the International Monetary Fund by early December to unlock more funds and trigger debt relief talks.

The issue will be revisited next week when European Finance Commissioner Pierre Moscovici visits Athens for meetings with Prime Minister Alexi Tsipras and top finance officials. Moscovici's two-day visit starts Monday.

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Follow Becatoros at http://www.twitter.com/ElenaBec and Gatopoulos at http://www.twitter.com/dgatopoulos

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