Strike shuts down Cyprus airports, gov't offices

AP News
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Posted: Dec 15, 2011 10:03 AM
Strike shuts down Cyprus airports, gov't offices

Cyprus' airports and government offices shut down Thursday in a daylong strike by civil servants and air traffic controllers to protest a wage freeze and other austerity measures they say were unfairly taken without their say.

The work stoppage has forced the cancellation or rescheduling of 79 flights to and from the east Mediterranean island's two airports, said Adamos Aspris, an airport spokesman.

Around 16,000 government workers belonging to the PASYDY union also walked off the job. State-run hospitals are operating on reduced staff, but other essential services including police remain unaffected.

A parliamentary vote on the budget set for Thursday evening has been pushed back to Friday morning because of the strike. But municipal elections slated for Sunday will go ahead as planned, Interior Minister Neoklis Sylikiotis said, despite a PASYDY appeal to members not to staff polling booths or to cast their ballots.

On Wednesday, lawmakers passed the two-year wage freeze and other measures such as a sales tax hike and temporary levy on private sector salaries that aim to cut the deficit from 6.5 percent of gross domestic product this year to 2.4 percent in 2012.

Finance Minister Kikis Kazamias said he had little choice but to skirt drawn-out talks with trade unions because eurozone-member Cyprus needed swift measures to avoid EU sanctions it faced if the measures were not approved by the middle of this month.

"We've succeeded in implementing what we had promised," Kazamias told state-run radio Thursday.

The government is hard-pressed to restore investor confidence, following a following a series of credit rating downgrades _ mainly due to its banks' heavy exposure to debt-burdened Greece _ that have brought the country to the brink of junk status.

High interest rates on its government bonds are preventing Cyprus from borrowing on international markets. The country is relying on a euro2.5 billion ($3.25 billion) low-interest loan from Russia to see it through until the middle of next year.

Strikes are rare in this country of 800,000 people where powerful trade unions represent some 70,000 workers on the government payroll. Public sector wages and benefits take up a third of all government spending.