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Greece: Schools shut, protesters pepper sprayed

Monday - 9/16/2013, 1:51pm  ET

Striking teachers protest against job cuts in central Athens on Monday, Sept. 16, 2013. Thousands of school teachers and other civil servants held an afternoon demonstration to Parliament to demand a repeal of government plans to axe thousands of public sector jobs.Under government plans, 12,500 public sector employees are to be suspended as part of efforts to trim Greece's bloated public sector and to meet conditions of the country's international bailout. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

DEREK GATOPOULOS
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Greek police used pepper spray against suspended school guards Monday as high schools around the country shut down at the start of a week of strikes protesting public job cuts.

At least two demonstrators were sent to the hospital with breathing problems after police tried to move them away from the government's Administrative Reform Ministry in Athens.

The Greek government job cuts, part of austerity measures demanded by creditors in return for bailout loans, have triggered rolling weekly strikes by teachers at state high schools. The country's main civil servants' union, meanwhile, has called for a two-day public sector strike for Wednesday and Thursday.

Thousands of Greek school teachers and other civil servants protested before Parliament on Monday to demand a repeal of government plans to ax thousands of public sector jobs. In the northern city of Thessaloniki, about 10,000 protesters held a similar march.

"The level of participation in the high school teachers' strike was very high today. Our estimate is 85 percent or higher nationwide," Stephanos Papalexis, deputy leader of the Union of Secondary Education in Athens, told the Associated Press.

Education Ministry officials could not be immediately reached for comment on the union estimate.

Under government plans, 25,000 public sector employees are to be suspended this year and 15,000 will be fired in the next 15 months as part of efforts to trim Greece's bloated public sector and to meet conditions of the country's international bailout.

Greece has been depending on rescue loans from the International Monetary Fund and other European countries that use the euro currency since May 2010. In return, it has imposed repeated rounds of austerity measures, slashing salaries and pensions and introducing rounds of tax hikes.

While Greek budget figures are showing some signs of improvement, with the budget deficit narrowing, the measures have also left the economy hammered by a deep recession, now in its sixth year. Unemployment has spiraled to above 27 percent, and is nearly 60 percent for those under the age of 25.

Conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras renewed a promise to end the recession next year.

"We are not out of the woods yet," he told a conference in central Athens. "But in the last 14 months, we've changed the image of our country abroad. We've stabilized our country internally. We have implemented sweeping reforms and brought our program back on track."


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