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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 March 2008, 07:59 GMT
Greece to vote on pension reform
Protesters march in Athens on 19 March 2008
Trade unions say the planned changes are too brutal
Greece's parliament is due to vote on a controversial pension reform bill that has triggered mass public protests.

The bill would eliminate most early retirement schemes, merge pension funds and cap auxiliary pensions.

The vote comes a day after Greece's civil servants staged a nationwide strike against the reform, paralysing transport and closing public offices.

Trade unions said millions of people took part in the 24-hour action, which was marked by clashes in Athens.

Government confident

Re-elected last September, the conservative government of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis wants to overhaul Greece's debt-ridden pension system.

Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis. File photo
Mr Karamanlis says the pension system faces collapse

It has warned the system faces collapse unless sweeping reforms are implemented.

Under the proposed scheme, more than 130 social security and pension funds will be merged into 13 funds, cutting administration costs.

The government is also considering raising the retirement age in some sectors, and giving incentives to those who continue working after the retirement age, which currently stands at 65 for men and 60 for women.

The conservatives may only have a majority of two in the 300-seat parliament, but they are confident they will maintain sufficient discipline to pass the legislation, the BBC's Malcolm Brabant in Athens says.

If Mr Karamanlis fails to push the changes through parliament, the credibility of his administration will be critically affected, our correspondent says.

Athens riots

On Wednesday, trade unions said millions of people took part in the general strike, paralysing train and bus services across Greece and confining ships to ports.

map

A number of domestic and international flights were cancelled, as air traffic controllers also joined the action. Schools, ministries and banks were closed for the day.

In central Athens, police fired tear gas in after groups of self-proclaimed anarchists threw petrol bombs and rocks.

The anarchists also set fire to rubbish bins and cars, and smashed bank windows, before dispersing, police said.

Some violence was also reported in the northern city of Thessaloniki as protesters set fire to banks and cash machines.

The unions described the strike - the third of its kind in as many months in Greece - as the biggest protests so far against the reform plan.

Despite the inconveniences, it seems that most Greeks support the strikers.

A survey by the banking unions showed that 71% of the population opposes the pension reforms and 69% supports the strike.



VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Clashes in Athens between protesters and police



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Greek strike over spending cuts
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Country profile: Greece
08 Jan 08 |  Country profiles

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