Greek deficit widens in first 9 months of years

By Elena Becatoros

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 12 2011 7:20 a.m. MDT

Visitors head toward the exit at the ancient Acropolis in Athens, on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011. Culture Ministry contract workers closed the entrance to the site after it had opened for several hours, to protest steep cuts planned in the public sector. The reforms are part of deficit-cutting measures required for near-bankrupt Greece to continue receiving rescue loans from the IMF and other eurozone countries.

Petros Giannakouris, Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece — Greece's central government deficit continued to grow in the first nine months of the year despite a series of austerity measures designed to raise revenues, figures from the country's finance ministry showed Wednesday.

The central government deficit stood at €19.2 billion ($26.1 billion) for January to September from €16.65 billion in the same period last year. The 15.1 percent increase was slightly lower than the government forecast of a rise to €19.24 billion.

The ministry blamed the revenue shortfall on a deeper than anticipated recession, but said shortfalls were likely to be made up over the next three months as recent tax rises, such as a controversial property levy, kick in.

The figures issued Wednesday relate to the state budget deficit, which excludes spending in some areas, and is not the criteria used for the EU's assessment of Greece's financial reforms.

The country has been dependent since May last year on a €110 billion ($150 billion) bailout package from other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund. International debt inspectors from the IMF, European Commission and European Central Bank, known collectively as the troika, completed a review of Greece's reforms on Tuesday, and said the next €8 billion loan installment was likely to be paid out in early November. Athens has said it will run out of funds to pay salaries and pensions in mid-November without the bailout money.

In order to qualify for the funds, Greece has had to push through a series of austerity measures, including salary and pension cuts in the public sector, and repeated tax hikes. The government is also pushing through plans to suspend 30,000 civil servants on partial pay by the end of the year.

Unions have been outraged, with workers staging near-daily strikes, demonstrations and sit-ins at government buildings. Both the Finance and Interior Ministry buildings were under occupation by protesters Wednesday and Finance Ministry employees have called a 10-day strike from Oct. 17.

Museums and archaeological sites shut down Wednesday for two days as Culture Ministry employees walked off the job, with contract workers at the country's most famous monument, the Acropolis, saying they had not been paid for five months.

No public transport will operate in the Greek capital on Thursday and Friday. Ferries will stop running early next week after the seamen's' federation declared the start of 48-hour rolling strikes as of Monday.

"The Greek people really can't take any more. They're reaching their limit," said Nikos Karagelis, a financial advisor for companies and businesses. "I know that wherever the troika has been, it's left scorched earth behind it, and wherever people tried on their own with proper governments they accomplished a lot more."

Mounds of garbage lie uncollected on Athens streets as municipal workers blockade landfill sites. Lawyers, tax collection and customs officers, state hospital workers, teachers and bank workers have all also declared work stoppages or strikes in the coming days. Greece's two largest unions have declared a nationwide general strike for Oct. 19.

Prime Minister George Papandreou was chairing a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, discussing a series of reforms, including plans to open up the taxi sector to more competition.

Papandreou's office said the premier discussed the Greek situation by telephone Tuesday night with IMF chief Christine Lagarde.

The two are said to have discussed the upcoming European Union summit on Oct. 23 and the G-20 meeting in early November, as well as the eurozone's rescue fund for financially troubled countries and issues related to the Greek crisis.

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Theodora Tongas in Athens contributed.

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