General strike cripples Greece
ATHENS, Greece -A general strike over plans to raise the retirement age in Greece has brought the country to a near standstill.
Hospitals, buses, trains, airports, television and radio news broadcasts, public offices and schools have been hit by the nationwide action.
In Athens, a protest march drew at least 15,000 protesters including labourers to teachers and fire fighters.
A banner carried by shipyard workers read: "No to pensions of death."
Journalist Constantine Buhayer told CNN the country was in a festive mood. "The sun is shining and people are out on the streets," he said.
But he added that there was a "demographic disaster looming over Greece." It has more than one million people aged over 65. and the government has to find a way of funding their pensions, he said.
The strike went ahead despite the government calling a retreat on plans to overhaul the nation's sagging pension system.
Last week, the Socialist government outlined sweeping proposals it says are necessary to prevent many pension funds from going bankrupt.
The measures include pension cuts and an increase in the minimum retirement age to 65.
Greece's powerful unions immediately rejected the steps and forced the government into an embarrassing reversal.
The strike halted all public transport, including island ferries, and disrupted air travel. The state carrier Olympic Airways trimmed its flights to just one per country and one for each domestic location.
Schools and government offices were closed, but many small shops were open.
Journalists joined the work stoppage, forcing television and radio stations to cancel all news broadcasts and current affairs programs. No newspapers will be printed for Friday.
Even Greek Orthodox priests, who are technically civil servants, stayed away from their duties.
The government's reform plans are intended to make pension funds viable and reduce deficits, but opposition has been sharp, some of it coming from within the ruling socialist party.
Labour Minister Tasos Yannitsis said that the government was freezing its proposals and called on opponents to come up with alternative plans for discussion.
Newspapers portrayed the announcement as a major retreat, but unions went ahead with the strike, with some saying that the government plans had to be dropped altogether.
The unions had previously rejected the reform proposals and said they would not discuss them.
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