Athens: Greece is set to come to a halt on Tuesday as protesters launch a 48-hour general strike against the bankruptcy-threatened government which is desperately trying to push through sweeping austerity cuts.

As parliament votes on the drastic belt-tightening measures to unlock 12 billion euros ($17 billion) of blocked funds from the EU and IMF, unions have called on Greeks facing hefty tax hikes to stage mass demonstrations.

Prime Minister George Papandreou begged the Greek parliament late Monday to do its "patriotic duty" and vote to keep the country "on its feet".

Air traffic controllers

Air traffic controllers meanwhile announced a halt to all flights at peak hours.

An official with the air traffic controllers' union, Anguelos Sotiropoulos, told AFP that flights would be grounded between 8am Greece time (0500 GMT) and noon, and again between 6pm and 10pm, on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Already on Monday, Greek airlines Olympic Air and Aegean cancelled dozens of mainly internal flights, and rescheduled a series of international departures.


As tourists begin flocking to the Greek islands for the start of the peak holiday season, the strike "will probably affect certain shipping companies," a spokesman for the port police also told AFP.

In the capital, trams and buses will not run but in an 11th-hour U-turn, metro drivers joined other employees on the subway system who decided not to strike "so as to allow Athenians to join the planned protests in the capital."

Public offices, banks

Public administration offices and banks will close their doors, hospitals will have reduced staffing and Greek media will down tools for five hours on each of the two days.

More debilitating power cuts for hours at a time are also expected after days of tactical stoppages in an effort to stop the government selling its stake in Greece's main electricity provider.

At least one lawmaker from Papandreou's party has threatened to vote against the austerity package on these grounds.


A string of rallies are planned for Tuesday, focused on Syntagma Square - home to the Greek parliament and a magnet for tens of thousands of protesters who see the international community as imposing tough conditions for their bailouts.

After earlier attempts to slash Greece's now 350-billion-euro debts failed, Papandreou wants to slice 28.6 billion euros from the balance of government spending by 2015, and raise what international partners hope can reach 50 billion in privatisation receipts.
"It is a necessary evil," said another Socialist lawmaker, Efstathios Koutmeridis.