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Greeks strike against more EU-IMF reforms

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(ATHENS) - Greek unions held a 24-hour anti-austerity strike Wednesday, shutting down ferry services to the country's world-famous islands, disrupting rail travel and closing pharmacies and several government offices.

The first general strike of the year, the movement is to protest new labour reforms demanded by the country's EU-IMF creditors and comes as the government announced a return to the medium-term debt markets after a four-year absence caused by the crisis.

The decision to test the market by floating a five-year bond is a clear signal the government is finding its financial footing, but is in marked contrast to the anger vented by the 20,000 anti-austerity protesters assembled in Athens and Thessolinki.

"Everything they're saying about the return to the markets has nothing to do with us, the workers," said secondary school teacher Nikos Toutouzakis at a march in Athens.

"It's only capital that profits and not the workers," he said.

Ships remained anchored in the main port Piraeus near Athens, with the country's main shipping union observing the strike call.

The national railways, including Athens commuter trains, were also disrupted, though the country's airports were seeing normal service.

Pharmacists have also staged walkouts over plans to allow medicine sales in retail outlets other than pharmacies.

Protesters close to the Communist party marched in central Athens, with a separate march by the main ADEDY and GSEE unions assembling nearby.

"Everyone needs to respond to these politicians that are destroying the people, the workers, pensioners and the young. There are 1.5 million jobless," said Vasso Papapdopolo, a retiree at the Athens protest.

The centre-right government of Prime Minister Antonis Samara is currently in talks with Greece's creditors over the next instalment of funding from its multi-billion-euro bailout.

Loan payments to Greece worth some 8.5 billion euros ($11.8 billion) are pending.

According to reports, the creditors are pushing for additional civil-service layoffs and changes to a 1982 law on strikes to reduce their frequency.

Hard-hit by the economic crisis, Greece is experiencing a sixth straight year of recession and has a staggering 28-percent unemployment rate.

The so-called "troika" of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund first bailed out Greece in 2010 with a programme worth 110 billion euros.

When that failed to stabilise the economy, they agreed a much tougher second rescue in 2012 worth 130 billion euros, plus a private-sector debt write-off of more than 100 billion euros.

Five general strikes were staged last year.

The new strike comes as the Greek finance ministry sets out to tap markets with the five-year bond sale, timed for Thursday, on the eve of a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

According to media reports, the amount up for sale will be 2.5 billion euros.

Merkel faced mass protests during her last visit to Athens at the height of the eurozone debt crisis in October 2012 over Berlin's insistence on biting budget cuts in return for assistance.

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