Greek lawmakers set to vote on austerity budget amid protests

08:35, December 23, 2010      

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Greek protestors participate in a demonstration against the government's austerity measures in front of the Parliament in Athens, Greece, Dec. 22, 2010. Greek lawmakers are set to vote on the 2011 budget draft in the early hours of Thursday amid ongoing strikes and protests by labor unions over painful austerity measures and structural reforms introduced to tackle a severe economic crisis. (Xinhua/Marios Lolos)


Greek lawmakers are set to vote on the 2011 budget draft in the early hours of Thursday amid ongoing strikes and protests by labor unions over painful austerity measures and structural reforms introduced to tackle a severe economic crisis.

The budget bill introduces a new string of austerity policies, such as further cutbacks on salaries of civil servants, a new freeze on pensions and tax hikes, along with measures to fight tax evasion.

The aim is to further reduce state expenses and increase revenues in 2011 in order to slash budget deficit from the current 9.4 percent of GDP to 7.4 percent by 2012 and less than three percent over a three-year period.

In late 2009 the deficit reached an estimated 15.4 percent of GDP, triggering a crisis which brought Greek to the brink of default this spring and fueled anxiety about the future of the euro zone.

The European Union and the International Monetary Fund activated a new safety net mechanism in May to support Greece with a multi-billion package in exchange for hash austerity and reform measures.

The Greek socialist government insists that they are fundamental to lead the country out of the crisis. Main opposition parties, labor unions and citizens on the other hand still object to this formula to put the economy in order and return to growth, suggesting alternative strategies that are less harsh on the average Greek household. The government argues that there is no time for mild solutions.

Despite criticism, the Greek parliament is expected to approve the budget bill, since the ruling PASOK party holds a majority with 156 seats in the 300-member strong parliament.

"The government regards all this discussion as oxygen. We take into account all opinions expressed, but we do not accept ultimatums," said government spokesman George Petalotis on Wednesday, when asked to comment on doubts raised publicly by deputies of PASOK.

Petalotis also commented on the latest warning by credit rating agency Fitch that it could further downgrade the credit rating of Greece to junk status due to uncertainty about the outcome of efforts to tackle the crisis.

"Greek bonds are not junk. We do not accept that," he stressed.

Members of the two umbrella unions of private and public sectors, GSEE and ADEDY, as well as members of Left political parties, took to the streets once again on Wednesday.

"We resist. We will fight on to victory," chanted demonstrators in front of the parliament building, as a unionist waved a Greek flag with the message "For Sale" written on.


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