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Greek taxis, doctors, dentists on strike

By Elena Becatoros

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Sept. 8 2011 6:51 a.m. MDT

ATHENS, Greece — Greek taxi drivers, hospital doctors and dentists walked off the job Thursday at the start of a new round of anti-austerity protests by professional groups and labor unions in the debt-ridden country.

The strikes came as Greece faced more criticism from its European partners over its slow pace of reforms and missed targets laid out in bailout agreements which are preventing the country from defaulting.

Taxi drivers were on a 24-hour strike Thursday against plans to open up their profession to more competition, and were to hold another daylong walkout over the weekend, while dentists and state hospital doctors began a two-day strike against a series of reforms affecting their profession.

More strikes from the likes of garbage collectors, teachers and tax office workers, are expected in the coming weeks.

Greece's Socialist government is stepping up spending cuts, under pressure from international lenders who have seen the country miss targets necessary for it to continue receiving loans from its bailout fund.

After years of overspending and waste, the country found itself unable to service its debts, and has been relying since May 2010 on funds from a €110 billion ($154 billion) package of rescue loans from other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund. In July, European leaders agreed on a second, €109 billion bailout with more favorable repayment terms for the country, after it became clear the first package would not be enough.

But the country has been struggling to meet the revenue and reform targets set in the bailout agreement. International debt inspectors left Athens last week during a bailout review amid disagreement over the country's deficit figures for this year and 2012.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble warned that Greece's financial situation is "teetering on a knife's blade."

Speaking to lawmakers from Germany's parliamentary budget committee Thursday, Schaeuble warned the Greek government must reduce its debt if it was to receive the next installment of its rescue loans.

The finance minister said he expects the so-called troika to return to Athens in about two weeks. The group left abruptly at the end of last week.

"There is no wiggle room, if Greece cannot present the appropriate numbers," a parliamentary publication quoted Schaeuble as saying.

On Wednesday, Jean-Claude Juncker, who heads the group of eurozone finance ministers, said Greece might not get its next, €8 billion batch of loans this month if it did not meet its targets. Without the funds, the country would default on its debts within weeks.

The government has already taken a series of cost-cutting measures, including trimming public sector salaries and pensions and a series of tax hikes, but has been falling behind on its revenues in particular. Officials have argued that its figures are being affected by a deeper than expected recession.

The country's statistics agency said Thursday that preliminary data showed gross domestic product in the second quarter of the year contracted by 7.3 percent compared to the same quarter in 2010. The figure was based on non-seasonally adjusted data, the agency said.

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Melissa Eddy in Berlin contributed.

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