Greek taxis block roads to port, airport in reform protest

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 18, 2011 5:09 AM

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek taxi drivers blocked roads to Athens' airport and main harbor Monday, holding up thousands of tourists at the start of a two-day protest against plans to liberalize their trade.

The Greek government has brought in a list of controversial reforms and austerity measures, under pressure from the EU and the International Monetary Fund to deregulate the economy and slash the budget deficit.

Taxi drivers said they were protesting against moves to relax rules governing their business and other highly-regulated sectors.

About 2,000 taxis had lined up on the highway leading to the capital's airport, leaving only one lane open and causing an 8 kilometer (5 mile) traffic jam, a police official said.

"Fifteen international and domestic flights have had an average 20 minute delay this morning as a result of the traffic jam and the taxi drivers' blockage," said an airport spokeswoman.

"The taxi drivers are lined up along the coastal road at Piraeus port. They have blocked the gate to the cruise ships' docking station," a coastguard spokesman said.

The blockage stopped buses drawing up alongside ships to pick up passengers, but tourists could still walk to their transportation, the official said.

Ten cruise ships were docked at Piraeus, meaning up to 16,000 tourists could be affected, he added.

The taxi drivers issued a statement threatening to prolong their protest if the government did not reverse the reforms.

The government says it plans to start issuing taxi licenses for a small fee, ending the practice where drivers could sell on their licenses for tens of thousands of euros.

"If you had got a 200,000 euro loan to buy a car (and) a taxi license, according to the laws of this country ... and suddenly you're told that tomorrow you will have nothing, you tell me what you would do," the general secretary of Athens region's Taxi Driver Association Konstantinos Dimos told state TV NET.

(Reporting by Tatiana Fragou; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Andrew Heavens)