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Greece mulls how to force strikers back to work

A man reads a flyer announcing a strike by metro services at the shuttered entrance of the Monastiraki Metro station in Athens, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. Striking metro workers in Athens defied a court order to return to their jobs and continued their protest for a seventh day on Wednesday, as demonstrations against new pay cuts escalated in the Greek capital. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- The Greek government is mulling whether to use emergency powers to get the metro system in Athens up and running again after strikers brought it to a standstill for the eighth day running.

Strikers protesting pay cuts refused to return to work Thursday, leaving Athens' subway system closed for an eighth day, despite a court decision declaring their protest illegal.

The confrontation is a challenge to the government's latest package of austerity measures, which were demanded by international creditors in return for crucial bailout funds but have deepened the economic hardship in a country that's entered a sixth year of recession.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras called the meeting with his development minister after the strikers said they would not accept a government plan to scrap their existing contracts as part of a broader reform to public sector pay that will likely lead to steep salary reductions.

The metro strike and other public transport stoppages this week have worsened rush hour traffic and forced some commuters to take taxis to work.

The government has not ruled out forcing the strikers back to work, using special powers normally reserved for wartime or national emergencies. By defying the court, strikers can be fired but they would also be liable to prosecution if they ignored a civil mobilization order.

"No one is above the law or better than anyone else," government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou told private Mega Television. "As a country, we are at a very difficult stage."

Strike leader Antonis Stamatopoulos called on the government to keep current labor contracts in effect until they expire in April and then hold negotiations.

"We are acting in good faith and are willing to suspend our action ... (but) they have not asked us (for negotiations)," said Stamatopoulos, who heads the metro workers' union. "If they want to chop our heads of, let them come and chop off our heads."

Stamatopoulos says the striking metro workers have seen their salaries almost halved by successive rounds of pay cuts leaving many unable to cover their household expenses.