Greece was hit by rolling blackouts Monday as employees at the main power utility began 48-hour rolling strikes to protest the company's privatization, part of austerity plans needed to avoid a national debt default.
The sell-off of state assets in the power company is a major step in a €50B ($71B) privatization drive that must be completed by 2015. It is part of highly unpopular austerity plans, including more tax hikes and spending cuts, that must be passed by Parliament by the end of the month if Greece is to get the next €12B installment of its €110B bailout next month. The troubled Socialist government is also struggling to make up for ongoing budget shortfalls.
Without the funds, Greece will be unable to pay its debts as of the middle of July, triggering a default that would rock financial markets in Europe and abroad.
The power company, known by its acronym DEH, said nine small and large thermoelectric units were already offline as of Monday morning due to the strike, and appealed to consumers to limit their use of electricity, particularly during the midday heat, when air conditioning use is at its peak.
It said it was preparing hour-long power cuts in several areas if that became necessary.
Greece has seen near-daily protests against the belt-tightening that has slashed salaries and pensions in an attempt to stem a ballooning national debt.
The start of the strike came as Greece's new finance minister, Evangelos Venizelos, was meeting his colleagues from the eurozone in Luxembourg for a second day. Talks did not produce a final agreement on the next installment of rescue loans or on a broader, second bailout expected in cooperation with the International Monetary Fund.
While European officials concede another bailout is needed, they have not agreed on the conditions.
Power Cuts Hit Greece as Protests Grow
Source: Associated Press, Elena Bercatoros (6/20/11)
"Power utility DEH's employees protest the company's austerity-measure-sanctioned privatization."