Greek parliament to vote on austerity bill

Government says package of cuts necessary to stave off threat of bankruptcy as protests and national strike continue.

Police officers clash with protesters before the Greek parliament begins voting on Wednesday [Reuters]

Greece’s parliament is set to vote on a deeply unpopular austerity bill which the government says is necessary to secure international loans to stave off the threat of bankruptcy.

The $40.8bn package of taxes, spending cuts and privatisation sell-offs has angered many Greeks with many taking to the streets as part of a 48-hour national strike protesting the bill.

If passed on Wednesday, the plan would would secure access to 12bn euros of emergency loan funds from last year’s 110bn euro bailout,

Greece has said it has funds to last only until mid-July, after which it will be unable to pay salaries and pensions or service its debts, without the next bailout installment.

The country is also in talks for additional help in the form of a second bailout, which Prime Minister George Papandreou has said will be roughly the size of the first.

“Voting these measures is required to maintain our credibility in the (bailout) process,” finance minister Evangelos Venizelos said during the debate on Tuesday night.

“Voting for these measures, regardless of any reservations, is an important, brave act of political responsibility.”

But John Psaropoulos, a Greek political analyst, told Al Jazeera: “The privatisation plan is not seen as realistic and implementable.”

Protesters have vowed to encircle the parliament building to prevent deputies from entering and voting for the bill.

Early in the morning on Wednesday, several hours before the Greek parliament opened its voting session, police fired tear gas on a group of about 400 protesters, who were heading towards the parliament building.

At least one protester was beaten bloody and 10 were treated in a nearby hospital for minor injuries, hospital officials said.

Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, reporting from Athens, said on Tuesday that the protesters represented a broad cross-section of Greek society.

“Marchers were from a complete cross-section of Greek society: it was young and old, it was very much a working-class protest. The unions who had called this 48-hour strike were in the forefront.”

Services across the country have been disrupted, leaving ferries tied up at port, dozens of flights to be canceled or rescheduled and hospitals functioning with emergency crews.

It also caused blanket power cuts and brought ground transport to a halt in the capital on Tuesday, as police responded to protests with widespread use of tear gas, and detained 18 protesters, laying formal arrest charges against three.

According to officials, twenty-one police officers were injured in those clashes.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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