Greece is braced for two major demonstrations against sweeping spending cuts and tax rises, as the country begins a 48-hour nationwide strike.

Transports and public services were shut down on Wednesday, while shop owners were encouraged to close up for the day in protest at the so-called austerity meausures.

More than 1,500 police have been deployed for the marches organised by public and private sector unions.

Protest leaders have said that although the austerity measures were needed to secure $143bn in loans from the EU and IMF, poorer Greeks will suffer disproportionately.

“There are other things the [government] can do, before taking money from a retiree who earns 500 euros [$660] a month,” Spyros Papaspyros, leader of the ADEDY civil servants’ union, said.

The cuts will significantly affect civil servants’ and pensioners’ incomes and consumer taxes are to be increased.

Among the major measures announced on Sunday were a cut in bonus pay for civil servants and retirees; three years more for pension contributions; and the raising of the retirement age for women to 65, the same level as men.

The Papandreou government is looking to push the measures, planned to be rolled out over three years, through parliament on Thursday. The government has a large majority in the house.

‘Very angry’

Aircraft have been grounded, ferries have remained in docks and public transport has been halted due to the strikes.

About 4,000 teachers, garbage collectors, pensioners and civil servants rallied in Athens on Tuesday, in the first march organised by unions since the cuts were announced.

About 200 communists hung banners from the Acropolis, reading “Peoples of Europe, Rise Up” and a silent protest was held by the Greek navy.

“People are very angry, and many outside Athens don’t realise what has happened,” Spyros Antonopoulos, a 78-year-old retired civil servant, said.

“When they get their next check, they’ll come to Athens with their children and grandchildren to protest.

“The way things are going, I won’t buy any new clothes. I’ll keep taking my trousers back to the tailor to get them patched up … I’ll wear them inside out if I have to.”