Greece MPs back austerity cuts

Lawmakers in Greece have narrowly backed a fresh round of austerity measures, despite violent protests across the country. The austerity package aimed at securing the next round of bailout funds was passed with 153 MPs in favour – a majority of just three.

The 13.5bn-euro ($17.3bn; £10.5bn) bill includes tax rises and pension cuts.

Earlier, riot police fired tear gas towards protesters when they were attacked with petrol bombs in Athens.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras warned before the vote late on Wednesday that without the bailout Greece would run out of money this month and face “catastrophe”.

The austerity package – Greece’s fourth in three years – is meant to close the nation’s budget deficit, lower its huge debt burden and make its economy more competitive.

MPs must now pass a revised budget on Sunday before eurozone finance ministers meet next week to approve 31.5bn euros in fresh loans from the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that Greece needs to avoid imminent bankruptcy.

But the level of resistance on the streets is a reminder that implementing the latest tough measures will be extraordinarily difficult, the BBC’s Mark Lowen in Athens reports.

Samaras’s warning

The crucial vote was held after a lengthy debate in the 300-strong parliament.

Immediately after the bill was adopted, co-governing New Democracy and Pasok parties expelled seven lawmakers from their ranks for failing to back the package.

The adopted plan includes a two-year increase in the retirement age from the current average of 65, as well as salary cuts and labour market reforms, including cuts to holiday benefits, notice periods and severance pay.

Workers fear this will just make it easier and cheaper for them to be fired at a time when unemployment has already soared to 25% and a five-year recession means there are few job prospects.

“Many of these measures are fair and should have been taken years ago, without anyone asking us to,” Mr Samaras said.

“Others are unfair – cutting wages and salaries – and there is no point in dressing this up as something else,” the prime minister said, adding that Greece was, nevertheless, obliged to take the measures.

Mr Samaras has said that without this money, which will be used largely to recapitalise the country’s banks, the country will be bankrupt by 15 November.

‘Mother of all strikes’

Earlier on Wednesday, tens of thousands of protesters held a rally in Syntagma Square – outside the parliament building in the heart of the capital.

The protesters chanted: “People – don’t bow your heads!”

Some in the crowd held giant flags of Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain – four of the eurozone’s most heavily-indebted states.

The riot police – who sealed off parliament – later fired tear gas after the demonstrators attacked them with petrol bombs and flares.

Protests also took place in other big cities across Greece.

The Greek unions were staging what they described as the “mother of all strikes” – a 48-hour walkout which culminated on Wednesday.

The third major strike in just two months brought public transport to a halt and shut schools, banks and government buildings.

Source: BBC

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