Athens, Feb 20 (IANS) Greece was Wednesday gripped by a one-day general strike, the first this year, in protest the austerity and reform programme introduced to lift the country up from a debt crisis.
Thousands of demonstrators marched in Athens and other cities during the nationwide mobilisation organised by the two largest labour unions -- GSEE and ADEDY -- representing most of the private and public sector workers as well as Left opposition parties, reported Xinhua.
The new strike, which brought a large part of public services and business to a standstill, comes ahead of a new audit by European Union and International Monetary Fund creditors next week that will determine the release of new rescue financing to Greece.
The debt-laden country is being kept afloat by bailout financing since 2010 in exchange of tough spending cuts and tax hikes, which have fueled unemployment, recession and reactions on the streets.
Government officials and lenders have argued that austerity was a necessity to avert bankruptcy and pledged development-boosting measures to exit the crisis.
Protestors responded that they have run out of patience and cannot afford more sacrifices.
"The harsh government policies push more people out in the streets to claim their rights," said Kostis, a student.
"No to further belt-tightening, yes to resistance and life with dignity," chanted strikers at Syntagma square outside the Greek parliament.
During the strike, public administration offices, banks, schools and stores were down, flights were grounded, ships remained docked and public hospitals ran on skeleton personnel.
Demonstrators argued that there were always alternative ways to distribute the burden so that poor households would no longer suffer from record high unemployment and poverty rates.