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ATHENS (Reuters) - A Greek court ruled on Friday that a strike by electricity workers which caused brief power outages across the country was illegal, in a verdict that will bring relief to the government as the summer tourist season kicks off.
Backed by the leftist opposition, the workers have been protesting against government plans to sell part of the Public Power Corporation (PPC), Greece's biggest power producer, fearing this will lead to higher tariffs and fewer jobs.
The workers launched a series of 48-hour strikes on Wednesday as lawmakers debated a bill allowing the sale of 30 percent of the firm to a competitor in 2015.
The court ruling, which paves the way for the government to order the strikers back to work, followed a lawsuit filed by PPC against the workers on Thursday.
Privatising the firm is part of efforts by Greece to liberalize its energy market at the behest of its European Union and International Monetary Fund lenders and one of the conditions for its next aid tranche worth 1 billion euros.
Athens is also eager to avoid major disruption this summer as tourism is the biggest earner of Greece's economy, accounting for about 17 percent of its output and 20 percent of employment.
Tourism Minister Olga Kefalogianni has said the strike could tarnish Greece's image abroad, which has just begun to recover from years of political instability and disruptive protests prompted by the sovereign debt crisis that erupted in 2009.
"No one wants to see a repeat of the unpleasant images of the past which defamed Greece," she said in a statement calling the electricity workers' strike action "extreme".
Greek opposition leader Alexis Tsipras, whose radical leftist Syriza party wants PPC to remain in state hands, said in a column published on news website TVXS that privatizing the 60-year-old firm was "a national and economic crime".
(Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; Writing by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Gareth Jones)