Greek cops, judges protest over cuts

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iol news pic APTOPIX Greece Financial Crisis AP The head of Greece's Association of Judges and Public Prosecutors, Vassiliki Thanou, reads out a speech during a protest of judicial officials at the country's Supreme Court building, in Athens, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012. Judges and prosecutors are threatening to cut court hours in response to pay cuts expected as part of a massive new austerity package demanded by Greece's rescue creditors. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Athens, Greece - Judges, public prosecutors and court workers gathered Wednesday in a rare demonstration at Greece's Supreme Court to protest pay cuts that have also drawn the ire of police, fire brigade, coast guard and university staff unions.

Organizers of the protest threatened to cut operating hours at the country's severely backlogged courts if salaries are slashed as part of the government's ?11.5 billion ($14.4 billion) austerity measures for 2013-14.

Greece's shaky governing coalition is scrambling to finalize the new package ahead of a new inspection Friday by bailout creditors. Without the cutbacks - which follow more than two years of harsh income cuts and tax hikes - the debt-crippled country will not get the next ?31 billion rescue loan installment. That would force Greece to default on its loans and probably to leave the 17-member eurozone.

“Of course it's not common to see judges protesting but we were obliged to gather today to express our opposition to the planned new cuts,” Vassiliki Thanou-Christofilou, head of the Association of Judges and Public Prosecutors, told the AP as about 200 people - including senior judges - took part in the protest.

“The cuts are likely to be 20 percent or more, on top of previous reductions worth 38 percent of our salaries. So the pay levels will no longer safeguard the court officials' ability to live in a dignified way.”

Police, Fire Service and Coast Guard associations are planning a protest in central Athens with officers in uniform on Thursday. Earlier this week, pharmacists and doctors stopped extending credit to the state EOPPY health fund, with whom more than 9 in 11 Greeks are insured. As a result, people registered with EOPPY have to pay the full price of medicine and health services.

The country has been relying on emergency loans from other eurozone members and the International Monetary Fund since May 2010. Debt inspectors are due back in Athens on Friday to discuss the new cuts and proposals to make Greece's economy - now in its fifth year of recession - more efficient.

A survey by the World Economic Forum ranked Greece 96th out of 144 countries in its Global Competitiveness Report this week - down six places from a year ago and still the worst in the eurozone.

Officials from the ministries of labor and finance denied local media reports that the debt inspectors would discuss the possible introduction of a six-day working week during their meetings in Athens. The two officials asked not to be named, citing the ongoing negotiations.

The labor ministry official told the AP the idea of a working week extension had been “raised unofficially” by creditors, but was not part of the country's bailout commitments and would not be discussed

Frozen out of long-term debt markets, Greece has pledged to make its national debt sustainable by 2020. But a state-funded study released Tuesday predicted that the country would be unable to do so without extending the bailout program by two more years to 2016, including direct bank support from a European rescue fund.

Parties in the Greek government coalition are pressing fellow eurozone countries to agree to those two extra years of support, but have so far had no success. - Sapa-AP


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