The government said on Monday that it would take an initiative concerning the ongoing strike by taxi owners, which has entered its fourth week. "We will safeguard the public interest," government spokesman Elias Mossialos said on private VIMA FM radio station, but declined to reveal the steps the government was mulling because "we are already in the process of dialogue".
Mossialos made a new appeal to taxi owners to put an end to their "incomprehensible" moblisations as the government has called for dialogue to find a solution that would lead to the deregulation of the profession.
He said the mobilisations by the cab owners should have already stopped, and warned that the strikers have surpassed all boundaries.
Mossialos further criticised main opposition New Democracy (ND) leader Antonis Samaras of calling for an end to the mobilisations, which greatly hurt the Greek economy, "with great delay".
Meanwhile, a new meeting earlier in the day between a delegation of the striking cab owners and transport minister Yiannis Ragussis once again ended in a stalemate.
According to sources, both sides insisted on their positions, with the cab owners demanding population criteria to be taken into consideration in the issue of the taxi licences, while the minister reiterated that he will submit his own proposals by the end of the month and dialogue would take place on the basis of those proposals.
The sources said that Ragoussis warned the strikers that the state will take steps to deal with their "extreme actions" throughout the country, noting that orders have been given to police and judicial authorities to intervene in instances of obstruction of traffic.
Striking taxi owners have been blockading the country's ports and airports, and on Monday launched a blockade of the tolls on both sides of the Rio-Antirrio bridge linking the Peloponnese with northwestern Greece, saying they are determined to escalate their mobilisations.
Federation of Attica Taxi Owners (SATA) president Thymios Lymberopoulos said Monday that the owners have decided to stage a 48-hour protest outside the ministry, on central Messogion Avenue, where a strong police force has been deployed to avert violence.
Culture and tourism minister Pavlos Geroulanos warned on Monday that the taxi owners' mobilisations were a problem for tourism, which is currently at peak season. "With every extreme moblisation, what the taxi owners' achieve is society turning its back on them," he said.
Also, the Panhellenic Federation of Hoteliers (POX) said Monday that its legal consultants have drawn up a draft lawsuit text that has been sent to all its member associations throughout Greece, to be filed by the member associations with the local judicial authorities wherever unlawful actions are committed.
"Let's all take into account, even at this late hour, that by shooting our own legs we may finally succeed in committing suicide...", POX said in an announcement, adding that the federation could no longer sit and watch this systematic "demolition" of Greek tourism's reputation and image.
It said that the conditions faced by Greek and foreign visitors and travelers to many tourist destinations "are pictures of shame and degradation that are unacceptable for a country in which a major part of the economy is founded on tourism, an industry that creates and maintains thousands of jobs -- including the taxi sector ".
Dispute between taxi owners, government escalates
The dispute between the government and striking taxi owners escalated to open warfare on Monday, with the protests becoming more hardline and dozens of key roads, airports and ports throughout the country in a state of siege.
A second meeting on Monday morning between Infrastructure, Transport and Networks Minister Yiannis Ragoussis with representatives of the taxi owners national federation SATA again resulted in deadlock.
A statement by SATA President Thymios Lymberopoulos that Ragoussis had left open the possibility of applying population criteria to determine the number of licences issued was later denied by the ministry, which noted that this would not act to liberalise the sector.
In spite of the increasing cost of the protest to the sensitive tourism sector, the ministry adopted a hardline stance on Monday and called on law enforcement authorities to strictly implement laws and penalties for those obstructing traffic and transportation. In addition to prosecution, these call for removing driving licences or vehicle registration plates for up to a year.
Taxi owners are equally adamant, refusing to budge from their demands and suspend protests in order to hold dialogue with the government.
Ragoussis is due to brief the appropriate Parliamentary committee concerning the dispute with taxi owners on Tuesday, at the request of main opposition New Democracy and Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) party MPs.
Throughout Greece, taxi owners were on Monday adopting increasingly extreme forms of protest against the government's planned liberalisation of their sector, with their national union SATA apparently unable - or unwilling - to exercise control over their actions at a local level.
Citizen Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis noted that more than 80 prosecutions involving 6,500 taxi owners were underway and stressed that the police would do their duty and not allow anyone to close roads, ports and airports with impunity.
Ragoussis also indicated, in his talks with SATA on Monday, that dialogue could not take place at the same time as extreme protests that held society and the tourism sector hostage.
This did not deter taxi owners from blocking access to the Rio-Antirrio bridge or the Athens-Corinth national highway at Rio, causing kilometre-long queues to form as motorists tried to carry out the crossing in the few remaining ferry boats or by using the old national highway.
In Iraklion, Crete taxi owners set up a picket outside the airport to prevent vehicles entering and there were clashes with police, who used tear gas to disperse them. On the island of Corfu, taxi owners blockaded both the airport and the port in order to prevent tourist coaches from picking up cruise passengers visiting the island, in Thessaloniki they marched through the city centre, on the island of Samos and in Kalamata, southern Peloponnese they occupied the local tax office and looted the offices of a local PASOK MP, while there were reports of damage caused by taxi owners at the offices of two PASOK MPs in Ioannina.
The protests and mobilisations are having a devastating effect on tourism, according to tourist-sector enterprises. They report that 15 percent of tourists that would have visited Greece on cruises over the summer period have now changed destinations and are visiting Turkey or Spain instead.
Taxi owners blockade tolls at Rio-Antirrio bridge
Striking taxi owners in Achaia and surrounding regions on Monday launched a blockade of the tolls on both sides of the Rio-Antirrio bridge linking the Peloponnese with northwestern Greece.
The cab owners, currently in their fourth week of strikes and other protest actions, announced on Sunday that they had decided an indefinite blockade of the tolls on the bridge, staring on Monday morning at 8:00 a.m., and of the road tolls at Rio on the Patras-Corinth stretch of the national highway.
On Sunday, taxi owners in the area had allowed motorists to go through the tolls on the bridge and at Rio without paying.
Traffic from Patras to Corinth was currently being conducted on the old national highway via the Rio and Selianitika passes, while vehicles and passengers were also using ferry boat service.
Striking taxi owners in Ioannina purportedly vandalise PASOK MPs' offices
Striking taxi owners reportedly caused extensive damage to the offices of ruling PASOK MPs Michalis Pantoulas and Thanassis Economou in the northern Greek town of Ioannina on Monday.
According to reports, the strikers left their taxis in the central square and then marched to the MPs' offices.
The MPs were not in the offices at the time, but the secretaries who were there told police that the cab owners broke PCs in the office and caused other material damage.
The president of the local taxi owners' union condemned the incident, and spoke of individuals who were out of control.