Three years of financial crisis and tough austerity measures have pushed Greek unemployment nearing 27 percent, with more than half the country's population aged under age 25 now out of work.

Northern Greece has been hardest hit by the recession, about to enter a sixth year. The border regions of Epirus and Western Macedonia have a jobless rate of more than 28 percent.

Stealing metal, especially higher-priced copper from cables, is adding to problems at the country's loss-making state rail company and other public utilities.

Ordinary scrap metal sells on the black market for about ⿬1 for 10 kilograms ($.06 per pound), slightly over half the legal rate, while the contraband copper fetches about 40 times that amount ⿿ still a huge reduction compared to the cable's market price.

Paraskevas Pourliakas, head of Greece's rail workers association, says about 100 kilometers (more than 60 miles) of cable has been stolen in the last three years, costing the state rail company some ⿬10 million ($12.8 million).

"They even sever cables with electricity running through them," Pourliakas said. "It's creating a safety problem for our train and passengers."

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Gatopoulos reported from Athens.

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