Greek police fire tear gas at striking taxi drivers

July 21st, 2011 - 1:56 am ICT by BNO News  

ATHENS (BNO NEWS) — Greek riot police on Wednesday fired tear gas at taxi drivers who have been striking since Monday outside the transport ministry headquarters in northern Athens, the Kathimerini newspaper reported.

Clashes erupted after riot police fired volleys of tear gas to disperse protesters, who were pelting police with bottles. The violence came after a meeting on Wednesday between Transport Minister Yiannis Ragousis and taxi unionists failed to end the three-old day strike.

The taxi drivers, who are protesting against the recent liberalization of their sector, have warned that they will continue with rolling 48-hour strikes unless the Socialist administration revokes its decision to lift all restrictions on the number of taxi licenses issued. Ragousis said a return to a previous agreement — signed earlier this year by his socialist predecessor Dimitris Reppas — is out of the question.

“Following the minister’s stubborn stance, all options are open in terms of our protests,” warned Serafeim Kasidiaris, vice president Attica’s taxi owners union (SATA).

Unionists representing taxi drivers around the country claim that relaxing limitations for entering the profession will result in an overabundance of drivers, putting a strain on a business already suffering from the economic crisis. They also say that the existing 300,000 taxis that are in circulation in the country are more than adequate to meet the public’s needs.

The recent liberalization is part of the country’s ongoing austerity reforms. Last month, the Greek Parliament passed by majority the Medium-Term Fiscal Strategic Program, part of the conditions set by the European Union for a financing loan.

The new set of austerity measures approved by the Parliament included tax hikes, wide-ranging reforms and accelerated privatizations. The approval of the program was fundamental for securing a new EU bailout agreement.

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