Power cuts hit Greece as PM faces vital vote
Showdown: Strikers turn up the heat in protests at austerity cuts
Greece's embattled prime minister is facing a vital confidence vote today amid escalating protests over the country's austerity measures.
Meanwhile, the nation was hit by a wave of power cuts as employees at Greece's main power utility began 48-hour rolling strikes to protest at the company's privatisation, part of the austerity plans needed to avoid a national debt default.
The sale of state assets in the power company is a major step in a e50bn privatisation drive that must be completed by 2015.
The highly unpopular austerity plans include more tax increases and spending cuts that must be passed by parliament by the end of the month if Greece is to get the next e12bn instalment of its e110bn bailout.
The troubled Socialist government is also struggling to make up for continuing budget shortfalls.
Without the funds, Greece will be unable to pay its debts as of the middle of July, triggering a default that would rock worldwide financial markets.
The power company, known by its acronym DEH, said nine small and large thermoelectric units were already off-line as of yesterday morning because of the strike and appealed to consumers to limit their use of electricity, particularly during the midday heat, when air conditioning use is at its peak.
It said it was preparing hour-long power cuts in several areas if that became necessary.
Greece has seen near-daily protests against the belt-tightening that has slashed salaries and pensions in an attempt to stem the ballooning national debt.
"We are on strike because, believe it or not, I feel that they -- the government and its measures -- have taken my smile away, have robbed me of my life as well as my children's future," said electrician Giorgos Maleskos.
"My only income comes from this job. After 33 years of work, we have got to the point of wondering if we will be able to survive."
Prime minister George Papandreou left for Brussels for meetings with EU president Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso yesterday.
Today he faces a key confidence vote in the new government he announced on Friday, when he reshuffled his cabinet amid a major political crisis.
Talks between Mr Papandreou and the head of the conservative opposition party, Antonis Samaras, on forming a coalition government had collapsed two days earlier while an anti-austerity rally and demonstration degenerated into riots on the streets of Athens.