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Workers strike at Greek banks

Workers strike at Greek banks

Workers at two troubled Greek banks went on strike Friday to protest an offer by the country’s fifth largest lender, Piraeus Bank, to buy out stakes held by the state.

The government is considering a 701-million-euro (892-million-dollar) cash offer from Piraeus Bank for its 77-percent stake in Agriculture Bank and 33 percent stake in Hellenic Postbank.

The Hellenic Postbank union said it could not accept the “greed” of the banking establishment which saw “the property of the Greek people like a bride with a rich dowry who will ensure them a dominant position on the markets”.

Union president Georges Sideris said in the media the offer was a “scandal”.

Piraeus had taken out a two-week 350-million-euro loan from Hellenic Postbank until July 27, he said, adding: “The one who has borrowed from us now wants to buy us.”

The Agriculture Bank union said the move was an “attack” on the bank, and by extension, on the entire agriculture sector.

The powerful national union of bank employees, OTOE, demanded an immediate meeting with finance ministry officials.

The Socialist government has in recent weeks encouraged the Greek banking sector to consolidate to help support the ailing economy, which is caught in a deepening recession as the country battles an unprecedented debt crisis.

The Piraeus proposal was also criticised by the Communist Party (KKE) and Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) as an attempt to flog off national interests at cheap prices.

But the conservative New Democracy, the main opposition grouping, said it supported the offer “leading to a restructuring of the banking system”.

It also called for “a transparent procedure to protect the public interest and a drive to reinforce conditions for competition in the national banking system.”

Standard and Poors ratings agency said Friday that while Piraeus’ purchase of the two smaller lenders would make it the number two among the country’s banking establishments, it could weaken its financial profile because of the broader exposure to Greece’s economic contraction.

Piraeus Bank’s net profits plummeted 87 percent in the first quarter compared to the equivalent period last year, standing at seven million euros (nine million dollars).

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