Cyprus austerity strikes shut down airports, ministries
NICOSIA - Agence France-Presse
Two passengers prepare their baggage as they await their flight at Larnaca international airport, Cyprus, Thursday, Dec.15, 2011. AP photoCyprus government services and airports came to a halt on Thursday as thousands of civil servants went on strike over austerity measures to reduce a bloated fiscal deficit. Thousands of civil servants backed by air traffic controllers are angry over parliament approving on Wednesday a two-year wage freeze in the public sector to avert an EU bailout.
Powerful civil service union Pasydy effectively shut down the government in a 12-hour stoppage beginning at 7:00 am (0500 GMT), while calling on members to boycott weekend municipal elections.
Apart from government services, hospitals were also operating with reduced staff leading to the cancellation of many operations and other appointments, although schools remained open.
President Demetris Christofias had urged Pasydy to call off the strike to no avail. He said the government was determined to see Sunday's vote go ahead.
Air traffic controllers unhappy with the austerity drive also launched a 12-hour strike from 9:00 am (0700 GMT) on Thursday at the Mediterranean island's two international airports at Larnaca and Paphos.
Airport authorities said the stoppage would affect some 5,000 passengers and disrupt around 79 flights.
All flights will be affected except for VIP, state, military, hospital, humanitarian, search and rescue, and emergency flights or those facing technical problems.
Employers, hotels and business groups condemned the air traffic strike, saying it would harm the key tourism industry.
The wave of industrial action follows a three-hour stoppage in the wider public sector on Tuesday and a wildcat Pasydy strike on Wednesday.
Trade unions called Tuesday's strike to show their anger at not being involved in a "social dialogue" when the austerity measures were agreed.
Other measures parliament approved on Wednesday included a rise in value-added tax to 17 percent from 15 percent from March 1, and an emergency sliding-scale tariff imposed on the self-employed and all public and private sector workers earning more than 2,500 euros ($3,245).
Hitherto universal child benefit and student grants will now be income-linked.
The European Union advised Cyprus to pass a tougher austerity budget by December 15 after the European Commission predicted a deficit of 4.9 percent of gross domestic product in 2012 from nearly seven percent this year.
Eurozone Cyprus needs tighter fiscal austerity to bring its bloated deficit below the EU's three percent ceiling for 2012.
The state budget was expected to be approved by parliament later Thursday despite the industrial action.