Massive protest fails to stop austerity measures
LEFTERIS PAPADIMAS AND HARRY PAPACHRISTOU
Greece’s government has narrowly voted to approve an austerity package to unlock vital aid and avert bankruptcy, despite an internal rift and violent protests at the gates of parliament.
Lawmakers approved the spending cuts, tax hikes and measures making it easier to hire and fire workers after nearly 100,000 Greeks waving flags and chanting ‘‘Fight! They’re drinking our blood!’’ descended on Syntagma Square in central Athens.
Despite the abstention of their junior ruling partner the Democratic Left, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s New Democracy Party and its Socialist PASOK allies passed the 500-odd page bill shortly after midnight (local time) with at least 151 votes in the 300-seat house.
Parliament has yet to give the official count of how many lawmakers voted in favour of the measure.
PASOK expelled six deputies and New Democracy expelled one lawmaker after the vote for failing to back the contested reforms.
Earlier in the evening, clashes erupted when a handful of protesters tried to break through a barricade to enter the assembly.
Riot police responded with teargas, stun grenades and, for the first time in an anti-austerity protest here, water cannon.
There was also chaos inside the assembly, where parliamentary workers briefly stopped the session by walking out when they discovered their salaries would be cut.
‘‘Today we vote on whether we will remain in the euro zone or return to international isolation, meet complete bankruptcy and end up in the drachma,’’ Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said in a final plea to lawmakers before the vote.
The bill covering the bulk of 13.5 billion euros’ (NZ$20.7 billion) worth of belt-tightening measures is a precursor to the 2013 budget law, which the government is expected to push through on Sunday.
If it does, it is expected to unlock a 31.5 billion euro (NZ$49.2b) aid tranche from the International Monetary Fund and European Union that Greece needs to shore up its banks and pay off loans.