Hundreds of thousands of Greeks joined a nationwide 24-hour strike on Thursday to protest against the government’s response to the economic crisis, disrupting transport and shutting down services.

Flights to and from Greece were suspended for several hours, banks and schools shut down, in the second nationwide protest against the conservative government since the police shooting of a teenager in December triggered the worst riots in decades.

“The government is taking measures which are very bad for our salaries. We live in a state of anxiety, we don’t know what will happen tomorrow,” said Athena Giannogona, demonstrating with a group of fellow elementary school teachers.

About 15,000 people marched through the Greek capital, beating drums and holding banners calling for salary increases and the protection of pensions.

“Demonstrating is one way to show the Greek government our disagreement, and we will also show it in the elections,” said Giannogona. Parliamentary elections are due in 2011.

Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis’s government launched a €28bn ($37.37bn) bank support package in January but a huge debt and fiscal problems have prevented the ruling conservatives from giving substantial relief to the poor.

The strike was called by public and private unions representing about half of the country’s five-million-strong workforce.

“We have total participation,” said Stathis Anestis, a spokesman for the private sector union federation GSEE. “Workers want the [government’s] policy to change.”

The government declined to comment. It has faced scandals and regular violence since December, including homemade-bomb and arson attacks on government buildings and businesses.

The ruling party has only a one-seat majority, but remains united and Karamanlis has ruled out an early election.

“People want a radically different change of course, but they haven’t found political agents who will express it,” said Seraphim Seferiades, professor of politics and history at the Panteion University of Athens.