Greek riot police stormed the Athens subway train depot early Friday to enforce a government emergency order forcing striking metro workers back to work in an escalating standoff over new austerity measures.

Dozens of strikers had barricaded themselves in the depot in western Athens late Thursday, after the government issued a rare civil mobilisation order, under which workers refusing to return to work risk dismissal, arrest and jail time.

Metro staff have been outraged by plans to scrap their existing contracts as part of a broader reform to public sector pay, with their union saying the measure would subject them to a roughly 25 per cent pay cut.

Police broke through the gates and removed dozens of strikers in the pre-dawn raid, while rows of riot police blocked off roads leading to the depot to prevent hundreds of strike supporters who had begun gathering from getting to the facility.

No violence was reported in the raid, with the workers not putting up resistance. The police blockade of the surrounding area continued into the morning rush-hour.

The government’s decision to issue a civil mobilisation order led to a swift backlash, with all other public transport workers declaring immediate strikes that left commuters stranded and forced to walk or take taxis home through traffic-clogged streets on Thursday. No buses, trams or trolleys were expected to operate on Friday.

Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou told state-run NET television he expected the metro to be operating “as soon as possible,” estimating that trains would begin running again during the weekend.

Defending the government’s decision to invoke a rarely-used law to end the strike, Mr. Kedikoglou insisted the new austerity measures must be implemented.

“We are a society, an economy, at a very difficult time,” he said. “People can’t ask for exceptions.”

Unions and the main opposition Syriza party accused the government of using dictatorial tactics.

“The government is dressed in khaki. It’s a new coup against this country’s constitution to mobilise working people on strike on the subway with military-style methods to try and break their struggle” Syriza lawmaker Dimitris Stratoulis said late Thursday.

Late on Thursday, Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras ruled out any softening of the pay reform.

“In some public corporations, workers with elementary education are paid more than university professors,” he said. “Nobody wants that sort of situation.”

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