left corner left corner
China Daily Website

Greece approves new austerity package

Updated: 2012-11-08 09:03
( Xinhua)

ATHENS - Greek parliament narrowly approved on early Thursday a new 13.5-billion-euro ($17.3 billion) austerity package aiming to clear the way for the release of fresh bailout loans to the debt-laden country.

A total of 153 deputies voted in favor, 128 against and 18 cast blank votes during the roll call vote, with 299 MPs present in the 300-member assembly, Deputy Speaker Thanassis Nakos announced.

The marathon process was broadcast live on local television channels at the end of a 48-hour paralyzing nationwide general strike and mass anti-austerity protests organized by labor unions and left opposition parties.

"Today we vote to ensure our position within the eurozone," Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said when addressing the assembly shortly before MPs cast their ballots after midnight.

The omnibus bill, containing the third set of harsh spending cuts and reforms in two years, was presented as a prerequisite for the disbursement in coming weeks of the next 31.5-billion-euro tranche from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund creditors who have been keeping Greece afloat since 2010.

Without further international financing, the country's cash reserves will dry out on Nov 16 and the eurozone will be threatened with major repercussions from a Greek chaotic financial collapse and possible exit from euro.

"You are not pro-Europeans. Otherwise, you would join us in objecting  austerity, which is destroying the continent," leader of main opposition Radical Left SYRIZA Alexis Tsipras said in his speech, pointing to the 100,000 Greeks who rallied outside the parliament building for hours ahead of the vote.

Demonstrators shouted that the additional cuts on wages, pensions and benefits, tax hikes, mass dismissals in the public sector and reforms in the labor market which facilitates lay offs "condemn Greek society to prolonged recession and poverty," as banners said.

Greeks suffer from a reduction of a quarter of the country's GDP over the past five years and jobless rates of over 25 percent.

Wednesday's rally ended in minor scuffles between hooded anarchists and anti-riot police officers, as parliamentary staff continued the protest inside the parliament building, walking off their jobs, denouncing a last minute amendment introducing supplementary cuts on their salaries.

However, the three-party conservative-led coalition government faced the biggest challenge from its own deputies.

With two exemptions, the 16-member parliamentary group of the Democratic Left, the smallest party in the four-month coalition, cast blank votes due to objections to the labor market reform.

One deputy of Samaras' New Democracy (ND) party held a similar stance and six legislators of his another partner, the socialist PASOK party, voted against the bill or abstained.

The total of seven lawmakers were immediately expelled from ND's and PASOK's parliamentary groups, leaving the coalition with a reduced majority in the assembly ahead of another key vote on the 2013 budget scheduled for Sunday.

"Greece made today a significant first step towards economic recovery," Samaras told media after the vote, expressing confidence that the next step, the vote on the budget, will end in a similar positive result and Greece will continue on the path to exit the debt crisis. (1 euro = $1.28)