Greece struggles to relieve fuel shortage as truckers defy Athens’ orders


Deutsche Welle | 31.07.2010

Greece mobilized military vehicles and vessels Saturday to provide the country with fuel, medicine and food as an ongoing trucker strike left the country crippled and its motorways littered with abandoned cars. Armed forces worked around the clock to supply airports, power plants and hospitals. Most filling stations around the country remained closed, meanwhile, as truckers entered their sixth day of strikes, defying an emergency government order to return to work.

Opening up road freight industry

Greece’s 33,000 protesting truck and fuel-tanker owners walked off the job on Monday to protest against the creation of new trucking licenses after the government stopped issuing new permits 40 years ago. Athens says the move will help liberalize the freight sector and open the industry to more competition by September, a key part of the reforms outlined in the 110 billion euro ($144 billion) European Union/International Monetary Fund bailout for the debt-ridden country. Financial analysts have stressed that opening up Greece’s closed professions, which also include architecture and law, are essential to revitalizing the country’s economy. "It is even more important than fiscal stabilization because it is the operation of the market which is hindered," said Yannis Stournaras of the Athens-based IOBE think tank. "When these markets open, GDP will be much higher," he added.

Truckers fight for the value of their permits

Truckers say the plan is unfair to existing operators, as it would devalue their initial investment; many have paid up to 300,000 euros to buy their permits, and would not be able to recoup this amount when they retire. Strikers continue to defy the emergency back-to-work order the government issued Wednesday, citing public health risks

from the lack of food, fuel and medicines delivered to retailers. Outside the transport ministry in Athens on Thursday, several hundred protesting truckers demanding a meeting with Transport Minister Dimitris Reppas clashed with anti-riot police, who used tear gas to disperse the crowd. On Friday, a standoff between police and demonstrating truckers turned violent in an incident that left five injured when police began hitting protestors with batons in the city of Thessaloniki, as the strikers attempted to block a truck from leaving an oil refinery.

Suffering the consequences

The striking truckers risk criminal prosecution and a loss of license for defying the government back-to-work order. Businesses, meanwhile, report that the strike has already damaged their livelihood and dealt further blows to Greece’s image abroad. "If the situation does not go back to normal on Monday it will be a disaster for tourism but also for imports and exports," said Vassilis Korkidis, chairman of the ESEE trade association. Tourism, which accounts for nearly a fifth of Greece’s recession-hit economy, has already been hit hard. With an estimated hundreds of thousands of tourists stranded in Greece, many more are canceling their summer vacation plans.

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