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Greece Jobless Rate Nears Record High

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Unemployment in Greece has risen to a near-record high, even as workers prepare for a two-day general strike to protest the latest government plan to cut salaries and eliminate 30,000 civil service jobs.

Greece said Tuesday that its jobless rate hit 16.5 percent in July, just a shade below the record set in May. Young workers were the hardest hit, with more than two of every five of them left without a job.

The government report came as a wave of work stoppages engulfed Greece ahead of the general strike called for Wednesday and Thursday. Greek ships remained moored in harbors and garbage rotted on the streets of Athens, while railway workers, journalists and others walked off their jobs.

Prime Minister George Papandreou has implored Parliament to approve a new austerity plan so that the country’s international creditors will hand Greece more of its $159 billion bailout from last year and help it avoid a default. He said that “everyone must assume their responsibilities.”

A few lawmakers from Mr. Papandreou’s Socialist party have voiced opposition to the austerity measure, which includes tax increases and changes to collective bargaining rules. But the package is still expected to pass.

The austerity measures Greece has already adopted have failed to dent its debt level, which now totals 162 percent of the country’s economic output.

The cascading debt crisis has touched even the strongest economies in the 17-nation bloc of countries that use the common euro currency.

France, with the continent’s second biggest economy after Germany, said it is unlikely to meet its growth forecast next year. Moody’s Investors Service cast doubt on whether France will be able to keep its top-level credit rating if its economy slows and it has to spend too much to help banks add cash to their reserves to cover possible losses from a Greek default.

Another ratings service, Standard & Poor’s, downgraded the credit standing of 24 Italian banks. S&P said the continent’s debt woes have led to “further deterioration in the operating environment” for the banks.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said the continent’s debt crisis will limit economic growth next year in central and southeastern European countries just outside the eurozone. It predicted 2012 growth of 1.7 percent in central Europe and the Baltic states, down from an earlier 3.4 percent projection.

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