Greece faces power cuts as unions plan strikes

Associated Press |

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek authorities warned Wednesday of possible power cuts at the heart of the summer tourist season as electric utility workers head for protracted strikes against government plans to break off and sell part of the country's dominant power producer.

Public Power Corporation unions have vowed to launch rolling 48-hour walkouts Thursday. They argue that electricity supply is a vital commodity that should stay under state control.

The conservative-led government insists it will carry out the sale — which was demanded by the recession-plagued country's international creditors. It is threatening to force strikers back to work with a mobilization order.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said he would not bow to "fanatic populists" seeking to stop his privatization program.

Since 2010, Greece has survived on international bailouts granted on condition that it implements tough austerity measures and sells off state property.

The PPC sale involves carving out a new subsidiary that would account for about 30 percent of the utility's power output, and selling it to private investors. Greece has also committed to privatize a 17 percent stake in PPC, in which it currently holds 51 percent.

The government says the deal, which requires parliamentary approval, will improve competition and lead to lower power prices.

Development Minister Nikos Dendias appealed to PPC unions, saying potential blackouts would harm struggling businesses and tourism — a key earner expected to help ease the economy this year out of a brutal six-year recession that saw unemployment hit a record 28 percent.

The country's power network operator said it might have to introduce power cuts if the strike goes ahead.

Opposition parties back unionists' concerns, and the main opposition Syriza radical left coalition called Wednesday for a referendum on the sale.

Parliament is expected to vote on it next week. Samaras' coalition has a slender majority of two in the 300-seat House.

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