New pay cuts trigger transport strikes in Greece, protesters defy court order to resume work

ATHENS, Greece - Striking subway workers in Athens defied a court order to return to work and continued their protest for a sixth day on Tuesday, as demonstrations against new pay cuts escalated in the Greek capital.

Traffic slowed to a crawl along the city's main streets as workers at the state-run city bus, trolley and tram systems joined the subway strike with four- and five-hour work stoppages.

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Monday night's court ruling against the metro workers' union allows the government to activate emergency powers to force the strikers back to work.

But the union said it would not back down. The workers have been protesting a change to the public sector's pay scales by the cash-strapped government which effectively results in new salary cuts for many.

"With these latest cuts, someone like me who earned €1,300 ($1,732) per month will end up clearing something like €700 ($933)," said Antonis Stamatopoulos, who heads the metro workers' union. "What's the point of working? We work underground, in the freezing cold at winter and often through the night and we cannot live on what we earn."

Stamatopoulos dismissed the court order and the government's ability to now force the workers to stop their strike.

"Civil mobilization? They can enforce it if they want. Maybe they should come here with tanks to force us back to work."

But many commuters, who have also seen their incomes cut and were struggling to get to work, were showing little sympathy.

"The strike has affected people, causing them to get to work late," said lawyer Konstantina Dimopoulou. "It's unfair that they're inconveniencing people. This must stop."

Parliament approved new austerity measures last month, an essential step for the country to continue receiving money from bailout funds worth a total of 240 billion ($320 billion).

Late Monday, eurozone finance ministers meeting in Brussels backed the payout to Greece of a loan installment worth €9.2 billion ($12.3 billion), with most of that money earmarked for recapitalizing the banks. The decision has to be formally approved by the board of the bailout fund, known as the European Financial Stability Facility.

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