Greece narrowly passes crucial austerity bill

Gasoline bombs thrown by protesters explode near riot police in front of the Greece’s Parliament on Wednesday. Thousands of anti-austerity protesters erupted in a violent demonstration before an important austerity measure was passed by a 153-128 vote.

Associated Press

Gasoline bombs thrown by protesters explode near riot police in front of the Greece’s Parliament on Wednesday. Thousands of anti-austerity protesters erupted in a violent demonstration before an important austerity measure was passed by a 153-128 vote.

ATHENS, Greece — Parliament passed a crucial austerity bill early today in a vote so close it left the coalition government reeling from dissent.

The bill, which will further slash pensions and salaries, passed 153-128 in the 300-member Parliament. It came hours after rioters rampaged outside Parliament during an anti-austerity demonstration by 80,000 people, clashing with police who responded with tear gas, stun grenades and water cannons.

Approval of the cuts and tax increases worth $17 billion over two years was a big step for Greek efforts to secure the next installment of its international rescue loans and stave off imminent bankruptcy.

The country's international creditors have demanded that the bill and the 2013 budget, due to be voted on Sunday, pass before they consider releasing an already delayed installment from Greece's bailout. Without it, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras says Greece will run out of money Nov. 16.

But the close vote was a major political blow to the three-party coalition government, which holds 176 seats in Parliament. The result shows support for continued austerity three years into Greece's financial crisis is dwindling fast.

"The government now has very little margin to take measures like this again," said Dimitris Mardas, associate professor of economics at the University of Thessaloniki.

After the vote, two of the three coalition parties — Samaras' conservatives and former finance minister Evangelos Venizelos' socialists — expelled a total of seven dissenting deputies from their ranks. Lawmakers from the third, the small Democratic Left, mostly abstained from the vote in accordance with their party's line.

The measures are for next year and 2014, and include new, deep pension cuts and tax hikes, a two-year increase in the retirement age to 67, and laws that will make it easier to fire and transfer civil servants who are currently guaranteed jobs for life.

The reforms aim to lower public debts but will in the process also hurt the economy, set to enter a sixth year of recession with unemployment at a record 25 percent.

Ahead of the vote, tens of thousands of protesters braved torrential rain to shout anti-austerity slogans. The rally eventually turned violent, with hundreds of rioters hurling gasoline bombs and chunks of marble at police. Clouds of tear gas rose from central Syntagma Square as the police fought back.

Greece narrowly passes crucial austerity bill 11/07/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 10:49pm]

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