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Greek civil servants hold general strike, as parliament debates further reform

ATHENS, March 12 (Xinhua) -- Thousands of civil servants participated in a 24-hour general strike and protest rally in central Athens organized by umbrella union ADEDY on Wednesday against further reforms aimed to exit the debt crisis.

School guards chained themselves to barriers outside the parliament building in a symbolic protest, as cleaning staff made redundant raised mops next to banners which read "No to layoffs. We resist unemployment and the selloff of our country."

The mobilization took place as legislators inside the parliament debated an administrative reform bill. The draft bill, which is due to be formally ratified by the weekend, includes a set of measures drawn in the context of a wider austerity and reform program, such as the abolition of two dozen public entities and the subsequent dismissal of thousands of employees aimed to streamline the public sector.

The bill supplements laws put in force last year which opened the way for drastic changes in Greece's bloated civil services under bailout deals signed with international lenders since 2010.

Over the past four years, the implementation of the tough austerity and reform program has led to the reduction of deficits and the improvement of fiscal indexes. However, the suffering of people amidst record high unemployment and deep recession is expected to ease this year.

The government, creditors and financial analysts forecast a return to growth within months. Disillusioned protesters on Syntagma square on Wednesday were skeptical and complained that they could not bear the burden of more austerity and reforms introduced to avoid default and restore growth.

"We must stand up to the new measures and the new draft laws which are against the interests of workers," Anna Vassilaki told Xinhua.

Vassilaki is one of the public servants put on a mobility scheme on reduced pay since last autumn which foresees their dismissal in a year if they will not be transferred to other positions. She has taken part in dozens of strikes and protests over the past four years and intends to continue.

"My life has changed dramatically. After 27 years of service, I was put on the mobility scheme. They were talking about transfers of employees to new positions, but it did not happen. Six months after the launch of the program, we see nothing on the horizon. What we expect is our dismissals," she said.

Social worker Pericles Tziaras said: "We request the strengthening of social care services nationwide. We are against the mobility program which leads to layoffs."

"We believe that social workers hold a vital role in the implementation of the social care policies. We support efforts for people's wellbeing amidst the current difficult conditions. We believe it is unacceptable to dismiss civil workers at a period when the needs for the protection of minors, the elderly and health are increased," he added.

After several rounds of cuts on salaries, pensions and tax hikes Greeks are turning their backs on private hospitals, insurance and schools, seeking support in public social services.

Doctors working at public hospitals along with local government and court employees joined in the peaceful protest which marks a new round of strikes and protests this spring over the government's plans to reduce by 15,000 employees the number of civil servants this year.

ADEDY has called for a 48-hour general strike next week on March 19-20. In a statement released to media at the start of Wednesday's march, the union denounced the introduced reforms as a "fresh assault on labor rights."

The new mobilizations come as the government continues a round of negotiations with auditors of international lenders this week on the conditions of the release of further bailout aid to Greece in the coming weeks.

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