Greek workers stage general strike

Flights in and out of Greece are grounded and schools and most public services shut down as the country's unions stage a general strike.

Flights grounded, public services shut down in protest over austerity measures

Flights in and out of Greece were grounded and schools and most public services shut down as the country's unions staged a general strike on Wednesday.

Police fired tear gas in clashes with demonstrators in central Athens who hurled rocks and plastic bottles near parliament, but the violence remained fairly limited.

More than 30,000 protesters took part in a march on Wednesday in Athens, part of the first general strike in the country since the election of a centre-left government in October.

The general strike came in response to government plans to cut spending and push through tax reform to help the country pull itself out of massive debt.

All flights to and from Greek airports have been cancelled, while trains and ferries were also idle. Public schools, tax offices and municipal offices are closed, and public hospitals are using emergency staff. Journalists are also holding a 24-hour strike.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou is facing pressure to push through belt-tightening reforms from the European Union, which is concerned that the country's shaky economy will drag down the euro and financial markets throughout Europe.

The EU has set a March 16 deadline for Greece to show signs of fiscal improvement.

Unemployment growing

Greek unemployment hit a five-year high of 10.6 per cent in November 2009, up from 9.8 per cent in October. In response, the government has frozen civil service wages and hiring while cutting bonuses, hiking consumer taxes and raising retirement ages.

The country's two largest labour groups, the private sector GSEE and the public sector ADEDY, oppose the new measures and say they will make an already fragile economy worse.

"If all these measures are enforced, unemployment will skyrocket. Our country will enter a massive recession and unemployment will reach a Europe-wide record," said GSEE spokesman Stathis Anestis.

"This will be tragic because it will provoke social [unrest] and clashes."

With files from The Associated Press