Greek parliament approves new austerity measures, but problems remain

08:23, June 30, 2011      

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Greek protesters clash with police during anti-austerity demonstration in central Athens, capital of Greece, on June 29, 2011. The protest was held as deputies inside the parliament building passed with 155 votes in the 300-members strong assembly a new package of policies requested from EU/IMF lenders in order to release further aid to the debt-ridden country.(Xinhua/Marios Lolos)

By Maria Spiliopoulou

The Greek parliament approved a key austerity bill on Wednesday amidst nationwide massive protests, but many problems remain for the country to overcome the debt crisis.

The bill passed with 155 votes for and 138 against in the 300- strong assembly, paving the way for the country to get its next vital bailout loans that will prevent it from defaulting next month.

Siding with thousands of protesters out on the streets who encircled the parliament building for a second day, chanting anti- austerity slogans, opposition deputies objected to the new painful 28 billion euros (40.26 billion U.S. dollars) cutbacks on public spending, tax increases and a separate 50 billion euros worth (71. 9 billion U.S. dollars) privatization package.

They consider the unpopular mid-term fiscal strategy plan as a bad medicine to solve the crisis.

On the other hand, Prime Minister George Papandreou, who secured a confidence vote to his reshuffled government just a week ago, repeatedly stressed over the past few days that ratification of the package is the only road to secure further vital aid from European counterparts and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Without it Greece could eventually go bankrupt this July, just over 14 months since narrowly escaped default last year, receiving a first multi-billion-euro EU/IMF bailout package.

"This is the only way to win more time to proceed to the necessary reforms, restore our credibility and correct injustice. Now is the time of historic responsibility so Greece will not witness a default," Papandreou said in an address to the legislature shortly before the vote.

Protesters clash with policemen during an anti-austerity rally in Athens June 29, 2011. Anti-austerity protesters attempted to block streets leading to the parliament where later today, Greece's parliament holds a crucial vote on whether to submit the country to a fresh wave of unpopular austerity measures as it attempts to avoid a debt default. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

"Europe gave a confidence vote to Greek people, to Greece, in order to change and stand on its own feet," he said, referring to ongoing tough negotiations for a roll over of mature Greek bonds and a second aid package to the country as a roadmap to stability and growth.

Greek Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos praised the ratification of a fresh austerity plan by the Greek parliament on Wednesday to tackle a severe debt crisis.

"Today we have taken a significant step. On Thursday with the vote on the draft bill for the implementation of the mid-term fiscal strategy program we will take a second one, so that in Eurogroup's meeting this weekend we could show clear signs of credibility," Venizelos told reporters, commenting on the outcome.

Conservative main opposition party leader Antonis Samaras talked about a "step to collapse," while left parties repeated calls to Greek citizens to rise up against the measures, denouncing the extensive use of tear gas by police forces on Wednesday to disperse groups of anarchists in central Athens.

The Greek government still need to secure a positive vote on a second bill for the new law's implementation this Thursday.

According to Greek commentators, even if the government wins again in the second battle this week, it will still come under enormous pressure inside and outside the parliament over the next days, weeks and months, as the average Greek citizen demonstrating across the country for months claims that he simply cannot bear the new burden.

"I have already lost one-fourth of my monthly income due to cutbacks on my salary, allowances, tax hikes since 2010. My wife is unemployed for eight months now. We cannot support our family. We cannot take it any more. Thieves and those who created the crisis should pay for it," said Yiannis Dimopoulos, a 45-year-old civil servant and father of two teenage sons.

Since early Tuesday, public administration and mass transportation services have been paralyzed, as hundreds of youth who created barricades with burning dustbins near the parliament building clashed with police.

"The struggle against the planned sell-off of Greece and the attack against the average Greek citizen continues," chanted protesters in a new rally organized by labor unions in the center of Athens on Wednesday evening.

Source: Xinhua

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