Greece’s workers walked off the job for a 24-hour general strike Thursday, as the country prepares to stop relying on European rescue loans but continues to pile more austerity measures on hard-hit taxpayers.
The strike halted ferry services to the islands, closed state schools, and left public hospitals accepting only emergency cases.
Airlines rescheduled and cancelled flights as some airport staff joined the labor action with a four-hour work stoppage, and public transport was operating only for certain hours during the day.
Thousands of people gathered in Athens for anti-government protests, while demonstrations were planned in more than 50 cities and towns across the country.
“The government is doing a dirty job at the expense of the Greek people,” said Greek Communist Party leader Dimitris Koutsoumbas, speaking at the main morning rally in central Athens, which was attended by more than 16,000 people, according to police estimates.
Greece has depended on international bailouts since 2010 but must return to bond markets next year when its third consecutive rescue program runs out in August.
The government’s borrowing rates have tumbled, and the country is on course to achieve modest economic growth in 2017. But poverty rates continue to worsen after years of cuts.
Household incomes have fallen by about a third since the crisis started in 2009, according to World Bank data, and inequality has risen due to high long-term unemployment.
Roughly half the country’s taxpayers are behind on payments, with several hundred thousand facing the threat of asset seizures.
Thursday’s protest was triggered by a government plan to toughen strike rules in draft legislation submitted to parliament and swiftly withdrawn.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ left-led coalition government has also promised to help banks clear a mountain of bad loans, speeding up auctions of homes in mortgage default.