Athens' striking subway workers defy court order

New pay cuts trigger transport strikes in Greece, protesters defy court order to resume work

Associated Press
News Summary: Striking subway workers defy court
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A homeless man sits near the closed entrance of a Metro station in central Syntagma square during a strike held by the unions of metro services in Athens, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. Striking subway workers in Athens defied a court order to return to work and continued their protest for a sixth day on Tuesday, as demonstrations against new pay cuts escalated in the Greek capital. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Striking subway workers in Athens defied a court order to return to their jobs and continued their protest for a sixth day on Tuesday, as demonstrations against new pay cuts escalated in the Greek capital.

Traffic slowed to a crawl along the city's main streets as workers at the state-run city bus, trolley and tram systems joined the subway strike with four- and five-hour work stoppages.

Monday night's court ruling against the metro workers' union, declaring their strike illegal, allows the government to activate emergency powers to force the strikers back to work.

But the union would not back down, and said it would continue to strike on Wednesday.

The workers have been protesting a change to the public sector's pay scales by the cash-strapped government which effectively results in new salary cuts for many.

"With these latest cuts, someone like me who earned €1,300 ($1,732) per month will end up clearing something like €700 ($933)," Antonis Stamatopoulos, who heads the metro workers' union, told the AP. "What's the point of working? We work underground, in the freezing cold at winter and often through the night, and we cannot live on what we earn."

Stamatopoulos dismissed the court order and the government's ability to now force the workers to stop their strike.

"Civil mobilization? They can enforce it if they want. Maybe they should come here with tanks to force us back to work."

But some commuters, who have also seen their incomes cut and were struggling to get to work, were showing little sympathy.

"The strike has affected people, causing them to get to work late," said lawyer Konstantina Dimopoulou. "It's unfair that they're inconveniencing people. This must stop."

Parliament approved new austerity measures last month, an essential step for the country to continue receiving money from bailout funds worth a total of 240 billion ($320 billion).

Late Monday, eurozone finance ministers meeting in Brussels backed the payout to Greece of a loan installment worth €9.2 billion ($12.3 billion), with most of that money earmarked for recapitalizing the banks. The decision has to be formally approved by the board of the bailout fund, known as the European Financial Stability Facility.

Greece has seen its borrowing rates tumble since a three-party government formed after elections last June negotiated the restart of bailout payments in return for more punishing austerity measures. The drop suggests greater investor confidence in the country's financial future.

The yield of 10-year bonds stands at 10.4 percent, down from as high as 37 percent last year. The improvement is dramatic, though the rate remains too high for the government to resume borrowing on bond markets. The equivalent German rate, a benchmark for markets, currently stands at 1.6 percent.

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Elena Becatoros contributed to this report.

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