Striking Greek cabbies step up blockades

AP News
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Posted: Aug 01, 2011 7:02 AM
Striking Greek cabbies step up blockades

Striking Greek taxi owners stepped up protests Monday, blockading highways and a busy regional airport, after fresh negotiations with the government on new licensing laws collapsed.

The 16-day strike has prompted warnings from the country's key tourism industry, but protest organizers vowed to continue. On Monday, taxi drivers blocked a highway in southern Greece as well as roads to Iraklio international airport on the holiday island of Crete, forcing tourists to walk to the site.

Cabbies also blocked access to the main port on the island of Corfu. Thymios Lymberopoulos, head of protesting greater Athens Taxi Owners Association, said his members would surround the Transport Ministry in Athens for 48 hours.

"They are not giving us a chance to take even one step back," Lymberopoulos told protesters over a loudspeaker after meeting Transport minister Yiannis Ragoussis.

"They are creating an atmosphere of tension that no one will be able to control. But we will proceed."

Taxi owners are angry at plans to open up their profession to more competition as part of business licensing reforms in the crisis-hit country.

They argue that taxi owners will unfairly lose the money they invested buying licenses _ around euro100,000 ($142,500) _ when the changes take effect.

"I got into debt so I could get a license and support my family and now Ragoussis wants to take it all away," protesting taxi driver Yiannis Papagelis said.

The reforms have been demanded by European Union countries and the International Monetary Fund, as part of austerity measures required to pay out rescue loans worth more than euro110 billion ($157 billion).

Spyros Ginis, deputy chairman of the Greek Tourism Enterprises Association, said the taxi strike was hurting the industry in high season.

"You can't have one part of society pointing a gun at another," Ginis told private Skai television.

"Tourism is the only sector that is doing well at the moment in the Greek economy and it distributes wealth to every part of the country," he said. "So this protest is really not helping."