ATHENS, Greece — A nationwide strike in Greece against spending cuts disrupted public transport, state-run schools, ferries and national rail services Thursday, and left public hospitals running with emergency staff.
More than 7,000 demonstrators marched in three separate demonstrations in the capital to protest against cost cuts the government is taking to satisfy its bailout creditors.
"We can either accept our continuing descent into poverty or fight against it," theater actor Dionysis Xenakis said.
He was joined at the rally by musicians playing drums, as a nearby group of demonstrators chanted "People, fight back. They're drinking your blood."
Protests were held in cities around Greece, with more than 5,000 at marches in the country's second largest city, Thessaloniki.
Years of recession and austerity have left nearly a quarter of Greeks unemployed — with most no longer receiving any state benefits.
Thursday's 24-hour strike went ahead despite a decision this week by bailout lenders to grant Greece a series of short-term debt relief measures aimed at evening out the country's repayment schedule.
Greece' left-wing government is still negotiating a new series of cost-cutting reforms that are expected to remove protection measures for private-sector jobs and distressed mortgage-holders.
"Nothing has been decided until everything is decided," Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, referring to the ongoing negotiations, told parliament.
Bailout negotiators, he said, were expected to return to Athens next week, with a deal possible by the end of the month on the term of upcoming bailout payout.
"We've been at this stage before. Everyone has to stay calm."
The reforms are part of requirements the country must meet to continue qualifying for emergency loans from its international bailout — the third such rescue package for Greece since 2010.
The country has been dependent on bailout funds since it became unable to borrow on the international bond market due to a deep financial crisis created by decades of poor fiscal management and overspending.
In return for the cash, successive governments have had to implement sweeping reforms, including deep pension cuts and steep tax hikes. The crisis has wiped out a quarter of Greece's economy.
Costas Kantouris in Thessaloniki contributed.