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Greek seamen end crippling strike

By Staff
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ATHENS, Feb 23 (Reuters) Greek seamen today called off a week-old strike that crippled the country's shipping and deprived hundreds of islands of basic necessities.

''We are suspending the strike as of 18:00 (16:00 GMT) today in order to show our sensitivity towards the public, our own seamen, but especially towards the islanders,'' Vangelis Kouzilos, a representative of the Greek Seamen's Federation, told Reuters.

The strike to press for better unemployment and pension benefits started last Thursday and cut off vital supplies to some 600,000 islanders. It kept ships in dock and prompted angry protests from farmers whose goods were rotting on trucks.

The latest in a series of walkouts that have hit the conservative government in recent months, the strike was originally scheduled to end tomorrow.

But anxious to get food, medicine and fuel to islands whose only connection to the mainland is ferries, the government ordered striking seamen back to work yesterday.

Although some obeyed the order, strikers at some ports vowed to continue the walkout.

Last evening, police used teargas to disperse strikers at Greece's largest port of Piraeus when they tried to prevent ships arriving from islands from docking. No one was hurt.

Farmers have also staged protests on the island of Crete, on one occasion storming the offices of the local governor and smashing windows with crates of vegetables.

After the mobilisation order and ahead of the union call to end the strike, several ships had began loading trucks and leaving ports around the country, except Piraeus, where ships were still moored.

''We are now waiting for the government. We wish for dialogue, but we also want our demands to be met,'' said Kouzilos.

The strike is the latest bout of industrial unrest against government labour reforms and wage policies aimed at reducing the 2006 budget deficit.

Greece's largest labour unions, private sector GSEE and public sector ADEDY, representing more than 50 percent of the 4.8 million work force, have called a nationwide walkout on March 15.

Reuters MP GC2149

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