Greece turns to military for fuel

Greece said Friday it will use military trucks, navy vessels and commandeered fuel tankers to restore gasoline supplies cut by a strike that has hurt the country’s industry and vital tourism trade at the height of vacation season.

A protesting truck driver holds a Greek flag as he  protests in front of Riot police outside the Greek parliament in central Athens

A protesting truck driver holds a Greek flag as he protests in front of Riot police outside the Greek parliament in central Athens

ATHENS — Greece said Friday it will use military trucks, navy vessels and commandeered fuel tankers to restore gasoline supplies cut by a strike that has hurt the country’s industry and vital tourism trade at the height of vacation season.

Government spokesman Giorgos Petalotis told The Associated Press that the emergency plan would take effect “as quickly as possible” to insure that vital public services were not affected by the protest, which is in its fifth day.

Earlier, striking truckers vowed to continue their protest in defiance on an emergency order to return to work.

Clashes broke out at an oil refinery in northern Greece leaving two people hurt, police said, after strikers clashed with riot police while trying to block a government-seized truck from leaving.

Greece is racing to push through austerity measures needed to secure continued international rescue loans to prop up its debt-strapped economy, with the next loan installment due in mid-September.

Inspectors from the European Union and International Monetary Fund are currently in Athens to review progress of cost-cutting reforms.

“The law will be upheld,” Petalotis said.

“Our information is that most mobilization notices have now been handed out. Those who do not comply are violating the law and can lose their operating license and face the consequences of criminal prosecution.”

The truckers have rejected a compromise offer by the government to offset the financial impact of liberalizing their closed-shop profession.

Sweeping labour reforms targeting previously protected professional groups follow months of strikes and protests over other belt-tightening measures that included sale tax hikes, and cuts in pensions and civil service pay — all in the midst of recession that has seen unemployment spike to around 12 per cent.

The fuel strike has hurt Greek industry and tourism, with shortages likely to affect travel this weekend.

“This is a catastrophe. The decision was taken on the busiest day of the year, at peak season . . . I don’t know what’s worse, what is actually happening today or the bad publicity this is giving us,” George Telonis, head of the Greek Association of Travel and Tourist Agencies, told The Associated Press.

“The season so far has not gone too badly, with about a 3 per cent drop on the year, despite all the strikes and difficulties . . . because we have a very strong product. But I am very worried that damage will be done if this strike continues,” he added.

He said the fuel strike will hammer last-minute bookings and popular holiday excursions to beaches and ancient sites.

Hoteliers at resorts in northern Greece, which are mostly accessed by car, have reported a steeper drop in bookings this year — more than 15 per cent, according to their associations.

“We are helping customers find open gas stations so that they can get home,” said Grigoris Tasios, head of the Halkidiki Hotel Association, of resorts in northern Greece. “About one or two gas stations are currently supplied in a 50-kilometre (30-mile) radius, when normally there would be at least 10.”

George Amvrazis, managing director of the Greek Hotel Federation, said the strikes had already tarnished Greece’s image.

“This has taken a toll on mainland resorts. You won’t set out to a resort if you’re not sure if you can fill up your gas tank,” Amvrazis said.

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