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Greek government invokes emergency powers to break seamen’s strike

A man with a child walk near docked ships at Piraeus port near Athens Feb. 3, 2013. Greek seamen have been on strike to protest government austerity measures.

YORGOS KARAHALIS/REUTERS

The Greek government invoked emergency legislation on Tuesday to order striking seamen back to work, threatening to arrest them unless they ended a walkout that has cut off dozens of islands from the mainland and caused shortages on grocery shelves.

The seamen's union, in response, said it would defy the government's orders and carry on the strike in the Attica region that includes the busy ports of Piraeus and Rafina. The country's two biggest unions also called a 24-hour stoppage in Attica on Wednesday in solidarity with the seamen.

This is the second time in recent weeks that the government has taken such action to break a strike as Prime Minister Antonis Samaras tries to show his resolve to stick with unpopular reforms and wage cuts demanded by international lenders.

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"Unfortunately, there is no room for further discussion," shipping minister Costis Mousouroulis told reporters.

The seamen, who are demanding months of unpaid wages and the repeal of a draft law that weakens their union, have been striking for six days and planned a further 48-hour strike before the government invoked the legislation.

"Trucks carrying products have been trapped in ports in Piraeus, Patras, Igoumenitsa but also in Italy," Greece's retail federation ESEE said in a statement.

The strike, which started on Thursday last week, is the latest test of resolve that Greece's fragile coalition government is facing.

Hundreds of seamen started rallying at the country's largest port in Piraeus to protest the order. Coast guard officials were expected to serve the strikers with military-style marching orders later on Tuesday.

Greek law allows the government to forcibly mobilize workers in the case of civil disorder, natural disasters or health risks to the public. Governments have been making increasing use of these powers to cope with anti-austerity strikes after Athens entered an EU/IMF bailout in 2010.

The measure was last used last month to break a nine-day walkout by metro workers.

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