ATHENS, Greece - Greece's unemployment shot up to 21.9 per cent in March, rising sharply from the 15.7 per cent rate in the same month last year and up from 21.4 per cent in February, the country's statistics agency said Thursday.

Greece has been struggling through a financial crisis for the past two years, and has been relying on billions of euros in international rescue loans from other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund since May 2010. In return, it has made deep spending cuts and imposed major tax hikes, leaving the country mired in a deep recession.

The statistics agency said Thursday that unemployment was up 37.8 per cent in March compared with the same month last year. Compared with February 2012, there were 21,625 more people unemployed this March, a 2.1 per cent increase.

Young people have been the most affected by the job losses, with more than half — 52.8 per cent — of those in the 15-24 age group out of work in March, compared to 42 per cent in the same month last year.

Greece's financial crisis has also triggered political turmoil. Voters furious at spending cuts that have led to reductions in pensions and salaries and ever increasing taxes punished the two main political parties, the New Democracy conservatives and socialist PASOK, in May 6 elections, turning to smaller and more radical parties on the right and left of the political spectrum.

No party won an outright majority on May 6 and coalition talks collapsed after 10 days, forcing the country into new elections on June 17. New Democracy has been running head-to-head with the radical left-wing Syriza party in recent opinion polls. Syrisza has vowed to pull Greece out of its bailout commitments if elected.

GREEK RIOTS, FEBRUARY 2012
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Passers by look at graffiti following violent protests which took place against the Government's austerity plans, February 13, 2012 in Athens, Greece. Thousands of demonstrators clashed with police as the Greek parliament approved drastic and unpopular austerity measures aimed at saving Greece from bankruptcy.