Strikes in Greece as austerity deal proves elusive

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A 24-hour strike by civil servants disrupted public services in Greece on Wednesday as the government struggled to hammer out a deal on further austerity measures with international creditors.

Thousands of protesters attended rallies in Athens and other cities, while civil servants penciled in another 48-hour strike on March 19-20.

In central Athens, cleaning staff fired by the finance ministry marched holding up buckets and mops, and a group of school teachers chained themselves to railings in front of parliament.

"I feel like I've been dumped in the trash," said Nikos Kikakis, a suspended 59-year-old high school headmaster who is due to be laid off this month and joined the protest at the parliament. "I have worked for 26 years in public service, and have no hope of finding a job now."

The strike by public sector unions hit services at tax offices, local government and elsewhere. An association representing pharmacy owners said it plans to close stores Friday and Monday, protesting proposals to loosen retail restrictions and allow the sale of non-prescription drugs at supermarkets.

The disruptions have come as negotiations with rescue lenders have dragged on for months, with the government reluctant to impose more economic pain in a country exhausted by a six-year recession.

"We believe that they will be concluded by Sunday," government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou told private Antenna television.

Greece has been hammered by a financial crisis since late 2009 that developed into an economic depression. The economy has shrunk by around a quarter while unemployment has soared to over 25 percent.

Since May 2010, Greece has depended on billions of euros in loans from the other European countries that use the euro and from the International Monetary Fund. In return, successive governments have had to slash spending, increase taxes and enact wide-ranging economic reforms.

There are hopes that the recession will soon end but the recovery is expected to be slow.

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AP Writer Elena Becatoros in Athens contributed.

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