Greek Carmageddon: Striking cabbies block roads

Striking taxi drivers block central streets in Athens, Greece, during a protest July 18, 2011. AP Photo

ATHENS, Greece - Striking Greek taxi drivers blocked road access to the country's main airport and harbor Monday in their latest protest against government reforms aimed to ease Greece's acute debt crisis.

Officials at Athens International Airport advised travelers to use airport shuttle trains after hundreds of taxi drivers blocked most lanes on the main access highway for hours. Several flights were delayed to wait for passengers caught in heavy traffic.

Traffic jams also built up at the capital's port of Piraeus, where taxi drivers — on strike until early Wednesday — blocked a road leading to the cruise ship terminal.

Hundreds of parked yellow taxis prevented coaches from reaching the terminal to pick up thousands of passengers from 10 docked cruise ships, who had been due to visit tourist sites in Athens.

Port authorities said the situation eased later Monday, when taxi drivers were planning to join with their colleagues from the airport blockade in a protest drive through central Athens.

Greece is enacting major economic reforms alongside an austerity program as it grapples with a debt crisis that nearly saw it go bankrupt earlier this month.

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Under pressure from international creditors, the Socialist government is liberalizing dozens of professions until now tightly regulated with decades-old license limits or fixed profit margins. Those affected include taxi and truck drivers, pharmacists and lawyers.

Taxi unionists say expensive licenses purchased to buy into the profession will be worthless if new people entering the profession can get them for free.

"I deeply regret what is happening (at Athens airport and Piraeus port)," said union representative Constantinos Dimos. "But my colleagues see their future as increasingly uncertain."

Liberalizing professions was part of a raft of reforms, spending cuts and tax hikes the government began pushing through last year as part of conditions to receive funds from a euro110 billion ($155 billion) package of bailout funds from other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund.

But the Socialists have struggled to meet their targets and implement the reforms, and are now seeking a second bailout deal by late August to keep the country afloat over coming years.

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