Travelers to Greece should expect cancellation and delays, as chaos erupts during a 48-hour general strike, which is expected to be the largest since the debt crisis began two years ago.
The walkouts on Wednesday Oct.19, 2011 were in response to the parliamentary vote on new round of tax increases and spending cuts, which will take place Thursday. The austerity measures are required by international creditors to bail out Greece from its current financial crisis.
Standstill Travel Industry
Air traffic controllers have scaled their strike back from 48 to 12 hours, which began at midnight and is set to end midday Wednesday. Currently over 80% of the flights are cancelled in and out of Athens International Airport.
People from all sectors from dentists to store owners walked off their jobs in support of the general strike. The city of Athens was all but shut down Wednesday, as shop owners and hotels boarded up their windows in preparation. Some shops have received threats that their windows would be smashed if they attempted to open on the first day of the strike.
Hospitals are currently running with only emergency staff. Trash is also taking over the streets of Athens, as garbage collectors have been striking for two weeks.
Travelers should also be warned that many customs officials have walked off their job, greatly delaying the planes that have been able to land.
Other forms of transportation were also shut down, including the national railway and ports in Athens. Getting a taxi will even be trouble, as they too have walked off their job. Public transportation is running with limited service, so that workers are able to get to the protests.
The U.S. State Department recommends passengers to check the status of their flight before leaving for the airport. The department also warns tourist to avoid places demonstrators congregate as protests can turn violent.
Demonstrations in Athens
Protests Wednesday began peacefully, however it is currently being reported that some demonstrators are throwing stones and fire bombs at police near the Parliament. Police have tried to break up the often young violent demonstrators with tear gas, while older protesters have moved away from the Parliament building.
Many of the estimated 100,000 gathered in central Athens are furious with the layoffs and wage cuts. The unions of Greece, which represent over 2.5 million workers, are hoping the resistance will stop the Parliament from passing the aggressive cut-backs.
Who are they trying to fool? They won't save us. With these measures the poor become poorer and the rich richer. Well I say: 'No, thank you. I don't want your rescue', 50-year public sector worker, Akis Papadopoulos, told Reuters.
Civil servants are forcing officials to meet elsewhere as they hold sit ins at state agencies and ministries. One of the buildings they are forcing officials to meet in is Parliament, the current site of many angry demonstrators. Inside Parliament, the slight smell of tear gas is in the air as official discuss their next move.
Meanwhile, in Parliament, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos told lawmakers Greeks must accept the bill, as the country will run out of money within a month's time.
We have to explain to all these indignant people who see their lives changing that what the country is experiencing is not the worst stage of the crisis, Venizelos told The Associated Press. It is an anguished and necessary effort to avoid the ultimate, deepest and harshest level of the crisis. The difference between a difficult situation and a catastrophe is immense.
The governing Socialist Party expects the changes to be approved. The party has a small majority of four seats and it is possible smaller parties may also support the bill. Prime Minister, George Papandreou, wants to make sure this bill passes in order to win the war on debt, reported Reuters. On Tuesday, he appealed to his cabinet to put the good of the country first.
We must persevere in this war as people, as a government, as a parliamentary group in order for the country to win it, Papandreou told Reuters.
The first vote will take place Wednesday night on the overall bill, with votes on individual articles to take place on Thursday.