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Bonds News

UPDATE 1-Greek civil servants strike, flights grounded

* Public sector strikes for 24 hours against austerity

* Flights grounded 1200-1600 GMT

* About 3,000 Greeks march to parliament in smaller turnout

(Adds turnout, quotes)

By Renee Maltezou

ATHENS, Oct 7 (Reuters) - Greek civil servants stopped work for 24 hours on Thursday, pushing ahead with protests against EU/IMF prescribed austerity measures despite a waning turnout.

Tax offices, public schools and some public services shut down, while public hospitals worked with emergency staff. Flights to and from Greek airports were to be grounded for four hours up to 1600 GMT, when air traffic controllers joined the action.

Civil servants have been particularly hit, with wages cut by an average of 15 percent, in addition to tax hikes and a pension freeze agreed to help restore the country’s finances in return for a 110 billion euro ($154 billion) EU/IMF bailout.

“Thank God I don’t have a family. I’d be in great trouble. They’ve slashed my salary by 20 percent,” said Christos Kourniotis, 44, a public school teacher marching in Athens. “We can’t go on like this.”

But fewer than 3,000 people turned out at a peaceful protest march, chanting “Thieves” and “Crooks” and holding banners reading “Tax the rich” and “No sacrifices for the IMF” -- a far smaller crowd than in similar demonstrations this summer.

A pension reform protest in July drew 12,000 people, already a drop from the 50,000 who took to the streets on May 5.

Public and private sector unions have staged six general strikes this year, but their failure to change the government’s course has discouraged protestors. Many Greeks have also been put off by the deaths of three people at a violent protest march in May.

“I can’t blame those who don’t take to the streets any more,” 18-year-old protester Danae Burnu said. “They think: I shouted, I protested, so what? What happened? Sometimes you can’t save yourself and the world at the same time, and they lose money when they strike.”

The government this week announced further belt-tightening in next year’s draft budget. The economy is seen contracting by 2.6 percent in 2011, after a 4 percent slump this year.

“2011 will be a tough year, but our aim is to work together -- state, citizens, social partners -- to turn 2011 into the last year of recession. We can do it,” Prime Minister George Papandreou told parliament on Thursday.

Private sector union GSEE has said it will not strike any time soon, easing pressure on the ruling Socialists as they struggle to pull Greece out of its worst recession since 1979.

But civil servants will not back down, said their union, which represents half a million workers.

“We will keep protesting, demanding that the new budget does not include any further salary cuts,” said Ilias Iliopoulos, general secretary of public sector union ADEDY. (Editing by Ingrid Melander and Erika Solomon)

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