General News: Taxi owners extend strike indefinitely; block roads, airports

Taxi owners decided to continue their strike indefinitely and to find additional forms of protest during a general meeting on Wednesday, after the breakdown of talks held earlier that morning with Infrastructure, Transport & Networks Minister Yiannis Ragoussis.
The head of the taxi owners' association (SATA) Thymios Lymberopoulos said that no taxis will cruise the streets for the duration of the strike and expressed his distress at the "10-15 provocateurs" that were responsible for incidents outside the minister's office.
The 90-minute meeting with Ragoussis and representatives of striking taxi owners ended in deadlock, while violence erupted outside the ministry when some protesting taxi owners tried to storm the building and were repelled by riot police using teargas.
Taxi owners began with a 48-hour nationwide warning strike at dawn on Monday, which they first extended for 48 hours and then indefinitely when talks with the ministry broke down.
The clash between taxi owners and government evolved into a head-on collision following the new minister's decision fully deregulate the profession immediately, without any transition period, disregarding a Presidential Decree that was being advanced by his predecessor at the ministry, Dimitris Reppas, with which the cab owners had agreed.
Meanwhile, taxi owners around the country also engaged in other forms of protest action on Wednesday, blocking access to roads, ports and airports throughout Greece.
One group from the port city of Patras and surrounding regions had blocked the Rio-Antirrio bridge, that spans the entrance to the Corinthian Gulf and is a major route connecting the Peloponnese and Athens with northwestern Greece. Others head to the Rio toll posts on the national highway, which they opened and closed at intervals.
Taxi owners in the northwestern Greek city of Ioannina set up a blockade of the city's airport for three hours, without preventing the movements of passengers, while similar action was taken by taxi owners on Crete at Hania airport, which taxi owners decided to blockade indefinitely after the deadlock in talks with the minister. Passengers are now entering Hania airport on foot.
Concern about the forms of action chosen by taxi owners and the harm this is doing to the country's image abroad as a tourist destination was expressed by the Association of Airline Companies Representatives (SAAE).
In other forms of action, approximately 300 taxis from various areas of the Peloponnese have set off from the Nestani and Spathovouni toll posts heading toward Athens, while 60 taxis stayed behind at the Nestani and Corinth toll posts and are allowing cars to go through without paying.
Meanwhile, a motorised protest by taxi owners in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki has caused massive traffic jams and changes to bus routes through the city.
Expressing concern about the impact of the mobilisations, 21 ruling PASOK MPs have asked that the PASOK Parliamentary Working Sector for transport be immediately convened and that the transport minister Ragoussis brief its members on the ministry's plans and intentions concerning the sector.
In a letter to the PASOK Parliamentary Group secretary, the 21 MPs noted that the situation is developing in such a way that "the Greek economy, tourism sector and the country's image abroad are currently receiving a serious blow with unforeseeable repercussions".

ND criticism
On its part, main opposition New Democracy (ND) party lashed out at Ragoussis for his handling of the taxi sector deregulation issue, saying that he is the “architect of chaos”.
ND spokesman Yiannis Mihelakis accused Ragoussis of undermining the dialogue with taxi owners before it began. He also alleged that Ragoussis’ stance is the result of a “personal vendetta” with his predecessor Dimitris Reppas, the current Public Administration Reform Minister Dimitris Reppas.
The ND spokesman called on the taxi owners to display a measure of responsibility and refrain from blocking airports, seaports and national motorways avoiding social confrontation.   

Rio-Antirrio bridge opens as taxis depart, traffic flow restored
Protesting taxi owners that had blocked access to Rio-Antirrio bridge departed late on Wednesday, restoring the flow of traffic to normal.
Taxi owners from Achaia and Aitoloakarnania had blocked access to the crucial bridge, which spans the Corinthian Gulf and connects the Peloponnese with northwestern Greece, since the afternoon.
They revealed that they are planning other forms of protest against government plans to fully deregulate the taxi service sector and remove quantitative limits on licences but have not announced what these are.

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