Greek legislators approved new austerity cuts early Thursday as part of a deal to secure billions of dollars from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, even as protests and riots erupted across the country and as a new report shows that a quarter of Greeks are out of work.
The divided, 300-seat Greek Parliament narrowly approved the measure with a majority of 153 members voting in favor of the harsh cuts, reported the Athens News.
The cuts include 13.5 billion euros ($17.1 billion) to welfare, pensions, and wages over the next two years to secure the bailout package and buy time, hoping to keep Greece in the 17-nation eurozone, which uses the euro currency.
“The vote’s result marks a large, decisive and encouraging step towards economic recovery and better days for the country as a whole,” said Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, of the pro-austerity New Democracy party after the measure was passed, according to the News.
The passing of the measure sends “a strong message” to the IMF and the EU “that Greece has turned the page,” Samaras continued.
As deliberations were going on all day Wednesday, throngs of protesters besieged the parliament building an attempt to storm inside. Inside parliament, members of the anti-austerity Syriza and the conservative Independent Greeks parties criticized the ruling coalition, saying that approving the cuts would be problematic for Greece.
In the end, there were 128 votes against the measure along with 18 abstentions. The New Democracy and Pasok parties, which form the ruling coalition, voted strongly in favor of the measure. Seven parliamentarians from the two parties who voted against the measure were immediately expelled by their leaders for breaking rank.
Even though Samaras deemed the passage of the bill a watershed moment during the country’s financial crisis, the mood was sobered by recent unemployment statistics showing that more than one in four Greeks are without a job, according to the Athens News. The most recent figures in August show that the unemployment rate rose to 25.4 percent.
The passage of the bill prompted transport unions to announce Thursday that a new wave of strikes will take place on Friday, affecting Athenians going to and from work, according to the Ekathimerini publication. Taxi owners, who according to the Athens News, began a continual strike on Monday, said they would resume working Friday morning.
Some 100,000 Greeks marched on the parliament Wednesday, reported Euro News. Several people were injured and there was property damage in the central part of the city due to the unrest. Media photographs taken in Athens showed burning buildings that were apparently set on fire after rioters threw Molotov cocktails as well as demonstrators clashing with riot police.
“Why haven’t these politicians asked themselves why they are only looking after their own interests? Shouldn’t their income, overtime and social benefits be reduced just like pensioners like myself and other people? If you ask me, this is shameful,” one man told Euro News.
Greek parliamentarians will now have to approve the 2013 budget on Sunday, which will likely prove to be another contentious issue.
The ruling Greek coalition has stressed that austerity cuts are the only way to secure the next round of bailout funds, worth around 31.5 billion euros ($40 billion).
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