Updated: 07/11/12 : 07:00:13
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World :: General Greek Strike Before Austerity Vote

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Athens as a two-day general strike began ahead of a tight Parliamentary vote on a new round of austerity measures.

The 13.5bn euro package of proposed cuts and tax increases includes a rise in the retirement age to 67 as well as pensions being slashed by up to 15% for workers whose pots are worth more than 1,000 euros per month.

The effects of the strike - the third general strike in six weeks organised by the country's two main unions - are being felt in both the public and private sectors with at hundreds of thousands failing to show for work.

Many schools, banks and local government offices have been closed while scores of flights have been cancelled.

Public bus workers in the capital and taxi drivers as well as metro, tram and train workers also walked out, paralysing traffic in the capital.

Ferry lines were also crippled, as ships linking to Greece's islands remained docked.

 The government argues that the strikes only make the country's dire economic situation more perilous.

It needs the austerity bill to pass through parliament to secure crucial international aid totalling 31.5bn euros (25bn) and prevent the debt-laden nation from potentially defaulting later this month.

According to EU economic and monetary affairs commissioner Olli Rehn, the international lenders and Greece are on track to reach a deal to unfreeze the next tranche of loans at a meeting of eurozone finance ministers on November 12.

The EU, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund demanded more savings in return for further financial support.

The austerity package, which was put to the Greek parliament late on Monday, would also include salary cuts for academics, hospital doctors, judges, diplomats and members of the armed forces.

 Greek MPs are due to hold an emergency vote on Wednesday with opposition critics saying the measures will only deepen the country's five-year recession.

It is understood unions are lobbying sceptics of the plan in a bid to force a defeat on the government - a nightmare scenario for the pro-euro camp which could force the country back to the drachma.

But there is support among the public for the austerity plan as many admit there may not be a better solution.

Yannis Levas, who works in a recruitment company aimed at finding jobs for Greeks abroad, called the measures "a double-edged sword".

"On the one side they must not go through, on the other they must. There is always that dilemma if we will return or not to the drachma," he said.