Acropolis opens to visitors after 3-day blockade

AP News
Posted: Oct 15, 2010 6:57 AM
Acropolis opens to visitors after 3-day blockade

The Acropolis reopened Friday after a labor dispute kept out thousands of visitors for three days from debt-ridden Greece's most famous monument _ seen as an enduring symbol of ancient democracy.

Filing through a double line of riot police protecting the gates, tourists started entering the ancient site shortly after noon (0900 GMT, 5 a.m. EDT), as guards ended a five-hour strike.

The walkout came on the heels of a two-day blockade by hundreds of Culture Ministry employees, who were forcibly dispersed Thursday by riot police using tear gas.

Dozens of protesting ministry workers remained outside the gates after the Acropolis and its 2,500-year-old marble temples reopened, but made no move to block visitors. They complain they are owed up to two years' worth of back pay and face dismissal when their short-term contracts expire at the end of the month.

Authorities had pledged to keep the site open, and accused strikers of showing disrespect for the iconic monument, which attracted more than 1 million visitors last year. Greece is in the midst of a debt crisis, and tourism is a key source of revenue.

"Nobody has the right to hold our ancient monuments captive," Prime Minister George Papandreou said Friday. "Is this the image of our country we want to promote?"

Earlier, a foreign visitor who tried to push past a picket line and riot police was met with shouts of "We are on strike, don't go in," from protesters, and police escorted her away.

Ted Kinnamon, from Santa Cruz, California, said the Greek government should settle the dispute by paying the workers.

"They're going to lose a lot more money from the bad publicity than they would by paying these guys," he said.

Greece narrowly avoided bankruptcy in May after foreign governments agreed to a euro110 billion rescue loan package. In return, the center-left government implemented tough austerity measures, cutting pensions and salaries and hiking consumer taxes. This sparked a series of union protests and strikes.