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Greek civil servants, pharmacists strike against bailout reforms
[ATHENS] Pharmacists pulled down their shutters across Greece on Wednesday and civil servants walked off their jobs in protest against a new bailout deal that saved Athens from bankruptcy but will impose more reforms on a country already deep in crisis.
Protesters marched against austerity in central Athens in the morning, holding banners reading "Cancel the bailout!" and"No to the policies of the EU, the ECB and the IMF" but only a few thousand people took part in the early rallies.
Other marches are planned for later on Wednesday but opposition on the streets has so far been limited and an opinion poll published on Tuesday suggested that more than 70 per cent of people wanted parliament to approve the bailout.
Lawmakers are due to vote on the measures which are key to unlocking the aid Greece needs to stay afloat but which are hard to accept for many in a country where unemployment has jumped above 25 per cent and the economy has shrunk by a quarter in the course of two previous bailouts.
"After five years of salary cuts and harsh measures the Europeans still want more," said Stavros Koutsioubelis, a spokesman for the ADEDY public sector union, urging lawmakers to reject the deal.
Unions, but also lawmakers in Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras'leftist Syriza party, chafe at a raft of tax hikes and pension reforms that must be passed in the vote on Wednesday if bailout talks with international lenders are to start.
"There was a different programme before the election so the measures should not be approved, and if they are approved they should not be implemented," said 40-year-old civil servant Christos Vagenas, who had voted for Syriza in January.
Pharmacists, already grappling with difficulties to get their hands on medicines amid capital controls and a row over exports, also went on strike to protest plans that could see people without a chemist degree own pharmacies, a union spokesman said.
In the bailout bill, the government commits to adopting by July 22 a timeframe for a reform of pharmacy ownership. That is one of the steps to liberalise the economy required by its eurozone peers as a condition to open aid talks.
Pharmacists are also worried about the fact that the EU statement foresees talks on opening up the sale of over-the-counter drugs.
For the time being they can only be purchased in pharmacies and make up around 25 per cent of the pharmacists' income, the Health Ministry said.
The Health Ministry said on Tuesday it had decided to ban the export of 25 drugs, following warnings of possible shortages as pharmacists said they had difficulties getting access to some medicines.
REUTERSRead more on the Greek crisis here