Greek unions took to the streets Thursday to urge the new government to change tack on its austerity policies as new Prime Minister Lucas Papademos insisted he would press ahead with more spending cuts.
Papademos, in power since only November 11, told the EU and International Monetary Fund his government would implement the tough measures agreed last month in a second bailout for debt stricken Greece after a May 2010 rescue.
"The government will take all measures necessary in order to implement the (October accord) ... and achieve the objectives of the economic programme, which is crucial for improving the long-term welfare of the Greek people," he said.
Demonstrators were gathering for marches in Athens and other main cities as the sixth general strike this year shut down public services and crippled train and ferry services.
Flights, however, were not affected and the Athens stock exchange was open, as was most of the capital's metro system.
There was extra security in central Athens, with riot police coaches parked near the parliament building while union posters of "No Austerity Budget!" hung from lamposts.
The protests, likely to see a set-piece stand-off around parliament between riot police and demonstrators, follow similar strikes across Europe as opposition grows to spending cuts and tax increases introduced by governments fearful of getting sucked into the eurozone debt quagmire.
The two top unions, private-sector GSEE and the civil service ADEDY, say they are fighting to avoid more of the same.
"There must be no illusions, austerity will continue in 2012 and so will our mobilisation because insecurity and the threat of unemployment persist," GSEE chairman Yiannis Panagopoulos told AFP Wednesday.
Thursday's protest "is an expression of anger and exasperation directed both inside and outside the country," Panagopoulos said Thursday on Flash Radio, referring to resentment at perceived EU interference in the country's affairs.
Successive austerity packages have become tougher over the past two years as Athens has cut spending and hiked taxes in an effort to balance the public accounts, inflicting pain on many.
Passoula Vertzizoglou, 46, a university worker for 23 years, said she was protesting against short-time work and cuts in administrative staff, with her monthly salary now 700 euros ($935), down from 1,150 euros last year.
She said she now feared further staff cuts of up to 30 percent.
Other union members called for the government to concentrate on growth -- the Greek economy is mired in a deep recession -- rather than more austerity.
During two days of protests last month, Athens saw violent clashes between the police and demonstrators and then between communist and other union protestors in and around parliament in Syntagma Square.
Police said 70,000 took part in that demonstration while unions claimed 200,000 but on Thursday the protests are expected to be smaller, with people knowing that elections are due to be held early next year.
Papademos, a former European Central Bank vice president, heads a government which includes members of the opposition conservative and far-right nationalist parties who previously attacked the reforms agreed with the EU and IMF.
They have pledged, however, to support the measures which go to a vote -- and expected passage -- in parliament just before another eurozone debt crisis summit in Brussels on December 8-9.
GSEE and ADEDY, officially with a million members, have held over a dozen general strikes against austerity plans in the past two years as Greece, saddled with a 350-billion-euro debt mountain, struggles to keep its head above water.
"Greece is the guinea pig and Europe's legal and political culture is being put to the test," ADEDY chairman Costas Tsikrikas said, warning that the unemployed -- already over 800,000 -- will rise under a plan to oust 150,000 civil servants by 2013.
"This is a cursed day for the public service and state employees ... We are determined to fight to overcome these barbaric policies," the union said.