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Municipal Strikes Sweep Greece

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Striking municipal workers rallied in Athens and occupied local government buildings around the country Tuesday as they protested against another round of austerity that will see big cuts in jobs and funding.

Organizers at the peaceful rally, attended by more than 2,000 protesters, said more than two-thirds of the country's 325 municipalities were closed to the public because of protests across the nation. The measures, which are part of an austerity package demanded by Greece's international rescue creditors, come as finance ministers from Greece's partners in the euro debate in Brussels on Tuesday whether to restart delayed emergency loan payments.

"Believe me, today is an incredibly difficult day, and very important in so many ways," Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said, referring to the Brussels meeting.

"There are already signs that the atmosphere is improving (for Greece)," he said, speaking at an event organized in Athens by the youth wing of his center-right New Democracy party.

Earlier, in central Athens, protesters beat drums, played trumpet music, and chanted anti-government slogans outside the public sector reform ministry, which is drawing up plans to suspend -- and ultimately lay off -- municipal personnel considered unnecessary.

Members of Athens' municipal brass band play their instruments during a protest in front of the Greek parliament on Tuesday.

Themis Balasopoulos, a local government union leader, blamed lead bailout contributor Germany for the latest round of harsh cuts.

"We will oppose these plans made by the Germans, who are behaving like neo-occupiers, with the help of their local supporters," he said in a statement. "They want to exhaust and dampen the will of our members so they can sell out local government. We won't let them."

His union vowed to continue protests -- affecting a variety of services from garbage collection to preschool day care -- this week and stage another demonstration in Athens Thursday.

Greek lawmakers on Nov. 7 approved the €13.5 billion ($17 billion) austerity deal, set to hike taxes and slash wages and benefits in a country with a deep recession.

The government on Monday said it is working on an emergency mortgage relief plan, expected to suspend the repossession of primary homes valued at up to €200,000 ($256,200) during 2013.

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