Greek fuel supplies run dry as strike over harsh austerity measures bites
PETROL stations ran dry in Greece yesterday as a customs strike over government austerity measures began to bite.
Customs staff initially walked out for three days on Tuesday over salary freezes and cuts in bonuses.
But their union announced on Thursday three 48-hour rolling strikes that will keep customs offices shut until next Wednesday, when all workers are being asked to join a general strike.
The customs walkout has hampered imports and exports, but the supply of fuel has been the most affected.
Many service stations in Athens had run out of all fuel, while those still open were rationing supplies with a 20 limit per customer. Traffic police were called to some outlets as cars queued for hundreds of yards.
Taxi drivers also held a 24-hour strike yesterday over sections of the austerity package that increased fuel tax and will force them to issue receipts.
Greek unions have been opposing the Socialist government's harsh austerity measures, which were imposed in an effort to pull the country out of its worst debt crisis in decades – one that has seen its deficit swell to a massive 12.7 per cent of economic output.
European finance ministers warned Athens this week that it would have to impose even tougher budget cuts if its current measures do not manage to reduce the deficit to 8.7 per cent this year. Athens has until 16 March to report back to the EU on its progress.
Meanwhile, the Greek government said a complex debt deal with investment bank Goldman Sachs that has come under scrutiny by the European Union was above board and will be explained.
The EU's top economy official, Olli Rehn, gave Greece until yesterday to supply answers on how it used transactions known as currency swaps and how that affected the country's debt and deficit figures.
"There will be a response. There is a letter by the finance minister," a government spokesman said, last night.
George Papaconstantinou's letter "will analyse the compatibility of those acts with European Union regulations and (say] there is no problem, and that other countries have also carried out equivalent actions exactly because Eurostat accepted this until a certain time," said the spokesman, referring to the European Union statistics agency.
Athens insists that it stopped using the practice when the Eurostat rules changed.
Mr Rehn said earlier this week that a "profound investigation" must be carried out, and that "if it turns out that there is such kind of securitisation of swaps that are not in line with the rules of the time, then of course we would need to take action".
The EU can take Greece to court, under threat of daily fines, to change its statistics methods. It is already threatening legal action for Greece's failure to report accurate public finance figures last year.
French finance minister Christine Lagarde said Eurostat was looking into "how a merchant bank, in this case Goldman Sachs, helped Greece structure, postpone a certain number of debt repayments."
Asked whether the bank had broken rules, the minister said: "That is the question that we have to ask ourselves and to which we need the answer. And I don't have that answer."
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Monday 20 May 2013
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