ATHENS, Greece (AP) - Ferries set sail for Greek islands for the first time in week Wednesday after the government invoked emergency powers to force striking seamen back to work and restore supplies to some of the country's most isolated populations.
Thousands of demonstrators converged on the country's largest port to protest the order, while the country's two main unions declared a regional strike in the greater Athens area for the day in solidarity with the seamen.
The strike in the Attica region will affect all public services and include a four-hour work stoppage by public transport workers.
The seamen's six-day strike against austerity measures had left dozens of islands without any means of resupply. The Cyclades islands' chamber of commerce this week said the strike had led to shortages in goods, prevented treatment of serious health cases and even stopped the transportation of dead bodies for burial.
Trucks carrying food and other products loaded onto ferries that set sail from the port of Piraeus for the Cyclades and the Dodecanese islands early Wednesday morning, unhampered by the union-backed protesters who began to gather at the port at dawn.
Riot police cordoned off the Merchant Marine Ministry to prevent a demonstration by thousands of protesters from reaching the building.
The strikers returned to work after the government implemented a rarely used civil mobilization order for the second time in two weeks. The three-party coalition last used the order, under which those who defy it risk arrest and jail time of up to five years, to end an eight-day metro workers' strike in January.
"The government must know that the systematic undermining of union and labor laws violate the country's constitution and international and European agreements that protect workers' rights," the civil servants union ADEDY said in a statement. It described the measure as an "anti-democratic practice of criminalizing labor and strike action."
Seamen have been demanding more than six months' worth of arrears in pay, and the signing of collective work contracts with ferry companies. Merchant Marine Minister Costas Mousouroulis said Tuesday that the government had done what it could to address their concerns.