Strike shuts down Greece before austerity vote

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Greek unions began a 48-hour general strike on Wednesday, the biggest protest in years, as parliament prepares to vote on sweeping new austerity measures designed to stave off a default that could trigger a crisis in the wider euro zone.
The strike shut government departments, businesses, public services and even providers of everyday staples like shops and bakeries and will culminate in mass demonstrations outside parliament, which was the scene of violent clashes in June.

The industrial action comes as European Union leaders scramble to set the outlines of a new rescue package in time for a summit on Sunday that hopes to agree measures to protect the region's financial system from a potential Greek debt default.
Greece's Prime Minister George Papandreou made a final appeal for support late on Tuesday, comparing the situation facing Greece to a war and telling deputies in the ruling PASOK party that it was their duty to support the tough new measures.
"We must persevere in this war as people, as a government, as a parliamentary group in order for the country to win it," Papandreou said. "We will win for the country, we will persevere. That is why I'm here."
Papandreou's narrow four-seat majority is expected to be enough to ensure the bill goes through, especially given possible support from a smaller opposition group. But party discipline has come under increasing strain and one PASOK deputy resigned his seat in protest on Monday.
At least two others have also threatened to vote against part of the package dealing with collective wage bargaining agreements.
Greece has had a foretaste of the protest over recent days as a succession of smaller strikes has left garbage piled in the streets of Athens, closed tourist monuments including the Parthenon and seen government departments including the finance ministry occupied by strikers.
"We are going to send a loud message to the government and the political system," said Costas Tsikrikas, head of Greece's largest public sector union, ADEDY, which is organising the strike with its private sector counterpart GSEE.
"We believe participation will be huge," he said.
Protesters will start rallying at about 0800 GMT in different parts of central Athens before marching to parliament.

"BLACKMAIL"

Trapped in the third year of deep recession and strangled by a public debt amounting to 162 percent of gross domestic product which few now believe Greece can pay back, the country has sunk deeper into crisis, despite repeated doses of austerity.
The strategy by European leaders to secure a rescue deal includes new steps to reduce Greece's debt, strengthening the capital of banks with exposure to troubled euro zone countries and leveraging a euro zone rescue fund to prevent market contagion to bigger economies.
Papandreou promised to resist pressure from the streets and prove Greece's determination to save itself.
"All these people who are blackmailing and holding up the whole country, by occupying buildings, filling streets with rubbish, shutting down ports, the Parthenon, have to explain to us whether this is helping us stand on our feet," he said.
A first vote, on the overall bill, will be held on Wednesday night, with a second vote on specific articles expected some time on Thursday.