By NICHOLAS PAPHITISAssociated Press
ATHENS, Greece (AP) - A fresh wave of anti-austerity strikes hit Greece Wednesday as the leaders of the governing coalition remained unable to finalize further spending cuts for the coming two years without which the country will lose its vital rescue loans.
State hospital doctors, school teachers and local authority employees walked off the job Wednesday to protest planned salary and funding cuts under a new €11.5 billion ($14.7 billion) austerity package.
The three unions held a peaceful march to the Finance Ministry in central Athens carrying banners reading "No to the financial collapse of local authorities" and "We will not pay for the crisis, we did not create it." Among the 3,000-strong crowd were several mayors, including the capital's Giorgos Kaminis.
Later Wednesday, about 1,500 retired and serving military officers, with many in uniform, marched to the Finance Ministry to protest a planned new round of salary cuts.
Debt-crippled Greece has depended since May 2010 on international rescue loans, granted by its European partners and the International Monetary Fund, in return for a deeply unpopular austerity program.
In addition to the previous cutbacks, Athens must now decide how to cut a further €11.5 billion as demanded by the country's creditors.
Conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is fighting an uphill struggle on two fronts. As well as getting the support of his center-left coalition partners, he has to get the approval of debt inspectors from the European Union, the IMF and European Central Bank, the so-called troika.
So far, Samaras hasn't managed to get his coalition partners to sign off on the proposed measures. Samaras met with the heads of the Socialist PASOK and Democratic Left parties on Wednesday evening, but a final agreement eluded them.
"Our European partners ... must realize that certain measures cannot be taken in a society that is falling apart," Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis said at the end of the meeting that lasted more than two hours.
"Under no circumstances can our already degraded labor rights be dismantled further," he added without elaborating.
Greek stocks, meanwhile, posted strong gains.
The Athens bourse's general index on Wednesday closed up 5.33 percent at 770.53, with gains driven by a surge in bank stocks. The increase followed a ruling by Germany's highest court that rejected calls to block the creation of Europe's €500 billion ($640 billion) rescue fund for indebted governments.
AP writer Derek Gatopoulos contributed.
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