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Anti-austerity strike brings Greece to a halt during troika visit

By Renee Maltezou

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek schools shut and flights were disrupted as workers held a general strike on Wednesday to protest austerity imposed by foreign lenders, whose inspectors were in Athens to review the country's performance under its bailout.

The 24-hour walkout by Greece's largest public and private sector unions brought much of the crisis-hit country to a standstill a day after officials from the "troika" of European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund resumed their latest bailout review.

"Workers, pensioners and the unemployed are going through an endless nightmare," port workers said in a statement.

"The government and the troika are destroying this country."

Labor unions fear Greece will have to impose further wage and pension cuts to meet its bailout targets in the coming years, union officials said. Greece and its lenders are at odds over the size of a projected budget hole next year, which has spurred speculation of a new round of unpopular cuts.

The unions are also protesting against planned public sector job cuts and privatizations.

School teachers, doctors, municipal workers, train workers and bus drivers are among the groups that joined the strike. Air traffic controllers said they would stop working between 1000 and 1300 GMT, disrupting flights.

Later in the day, thousands of people are expected to march to the central Syntagma square before parliament, where police and protesters have clashed in the past.

"United we can stop them, we can topple them," public sector union ADEDY said in a statement before the strike.

Greece is in its sixth year of a recession, and repeated rounds of austerity have squeezed households and sent unemployment to record highs of over 27 percent.

ADEDY and private sector union GSEE have brought people to the streets repeatedly since the crisis broke out in 2009. The protests have tested the government's will to implement spending cuts and reforms prescribed by the troika.

But they have also largely fizzled out this year, dampened by a growing sense of resignation and despondency among Greeks.

Still, anger against German-led austerity remains high and Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's coalition government has rejected further across-the-board wage and pension cuts or tax increases to fill any budget gaps.

"Society cannot take it, the economy cannot take it, and it is not even required by the country's current financial situation," Samaras said in a television interview on Tuesday.

(Editing by Deepa Babington and Elizabeth Piper)

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