UPDATE 1-Greeks march against austerity, set new strike

* Greek unions march, set strike for May 20

* Unions oppose pension reform, wage cuts

* Greek economy contracted 0.8 percent in first quarter

* Greece gets first 5.5 bln euros aid instalment

(Updates with protest march, PM comment, IMF cash)

By Renee Maltezou and Ingrid Melander

ATHENS, May 12 (BestGrowthStock) – 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.”


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

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

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.

Stock Investing
(Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou and Harry
Papachristou; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Mark

UPDATE 1-Greeks march against austerity, set new strike