Greeks march against austerity, set new strike

About 2,000 Greeks marched to parliament to protest against spending cuts and tax hikes, as the country received a first instalment of 5.5 billion euros.

Greeks march against austerity, set new strike

About 2,000 Greeks marched to parliament on Wednesday to protest against spending cuts and tax hikes, as the debt-choked country received a first instalment of 5.5 billion euros as part of an EU-IMF "pain-for-gain" deal.

Marching workers carried banners reading "Cancel the IMF-EU deal now!" and "If we don't react we will starve". Public and private sector unions said they would stage a 24-hour nationwide strike on May 20 to step up pressure on the government.

The march was small compared to the 50,000-strong protest a week ago when hundreds of angry Greeks fought with police in the streets of central Athens and three people were killed in a petrol bomb attack on a local bank.

But frequent evening marches such as Wednesday's usually attract a relatively small following, and the May 20 protest is expected to draw bigger crowds.

Investors are closely watching public reaction to government wage and pension cuts agreed as part of a 110 billion euro ($139.7 billion) EU-IMF aid deal, amid concerns more protests could undermine Prime Minister George Papandreou's resolve.

Unions say the EU-IMF plan only burdens the poor and will hurt the economy.

"The IMF will not stop thirsting for workers' blood," said Yannis Panagopoulos, chairman of Greece's main private sector labour union GSEE. "Its recipes are a disaster and the government must turn them down."

 

Economy shrinks 

New figures published on Wednesday showed Greece's economy contracted 0.8 percent in the first quarter compared to the last three months of 2009.

The contraction was not as bad as expected, but economists see its pace accelerating in the next two quarters as wage cuts hit disposable incomes and uncertainty about economic prospects increases.

People at the march vowed to keep protesting until the government backed down.

"We are protesting because we are on the brink of poverty," said 56-year-old accountant Kiki Krikou, who said her husband and one of her two sons were unemployed. "I've been working 36 years in the private sector and I'm afraid I won't get a pension."

Greece's statistics office will publish unemployment data for February on Thursday. Unemployment jumped to a six-year high of 11.3 percent in January.

Opinion polls show that a big majority of Greeks believe the measures are unfair and they are determined to continue strikes and protests. Many Greeks are demanding that Papandreou take concrete steps to punish corrupt officials they believe are responsible for leading the country down an economic dead-end.

Papandreou said on Wednesday the government would press ahead and implement budget consolidation plans.

"We must all continue our fight," he told a cabinet meeting. "Regardless how unpleasant these measures are, I believe that a great majority of people accept them, under conditions of course, as long as we succeed ... first of all with our stability programme."

The May 20 walkout will take place a day after a 8.5 billion euro 10-year Greek bond matures, an event which pushed cash-strapped Greece to seek aid.

On Wednesday, Athens received the first, 5.5 billion euro instalment from the multi-billion euro aid package, a bank official familiar with the deal said. Greece hopes to get another 14.5 billion euros in aid from the EU before May 19.

Reuters

Last Mod: 13 Mayıs 2010, 00:30
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