23rd Jan 2020

Greek MPs back austerity deal

  • At least 80 people were injured in the anti-austerity protests (Photo: mkhalili)

The Greek parliament late Sunday night (12 February) voted in favour of the austerity package required by eurozone countries in return for a bail-out needed to avoid bankruptcy, but the vote was marked by violent street clashes.

"Of 278 deputies present, 199 voted for, and 74 against," Parliament speaker Philippos Petsalnikos said, with the vote coming after nine hours of heated debate.

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Over 40 rebels from the coalition parties who voted against the bill were immediately ousted from their posts. This followed the five ministers who resigned on Friday in protest over the austerity measures which include 15,000 public-sector job cuts, a lowering of the minimum wage by 20 percent to €600 a month, pension cuts, privatisations and the liberalisation of labour laws.

Prime Minister Lucas Papademos said the austerity package would "set the foundations for the reform and recovery of the economy", whereas his finance minister pointed out that the question was not about stomaching some cuts, but "whether we will be able to pay even these reduced wages and pensions."

Greece needs the €130bn bail-out by 20 March, when it has to repay €14.5bn worth of bonds or face bankruptcy. Eurozone ministers have set three conditions for the bailout, all of which have to be fulfilled by Wednesday. The austerity plan must be passed through parliament, written pledges must be signed by all political parties ensuring they will stick to the programme after the general elections due in April, and further savings of €325 million have to be made.

But the sense of injustice over more austerity measures hitting the worst off spilled over in several Greek cities, including Thessaloniki where some 20,000 people took to the streets, as well as the islands of Corfu and Crete.

Tens of thousands of protesters clashed with police before the parliament in Syntagma Square, with buildings set ablaze and over 80 people injured.

Trade unionists, nationalists, communists, students, retired people were among those denouncing the "EU-IMF blackmail", many of them equipped with gas masks to resist the tear gas used by riot police. German flags were also burnt in protest as what is seen as a Berlin-prescribed austerity package for Greece.

Support for their cause came also from the US multi-billionaire George Soros who criticised Germany's austerity drive. "I admire Chancellor Angela Merkel for her strong leadership," he told Der Spiegel, "but unfortunately she is leading Europe in the wrong direction."

Instead of austerity, embattled eurozone countries need to be helped with financial stimuli, he said. "Otherwise we are repeating the mistakes that lead America in 1929 straight into the Great Depression. Angela Merkel simply doesn't understand this," the financier said.

Meanwhile, German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble continued to apply political pressure by raising the possibility of a Greek exit from the eurozone.

"That is all in the hands of the Greeks themselves," he told German newspaper Welt am Sonntag. "But even in the event (of an exit from the eurozone), which almost no one assumes, they will still remain part of Europe."

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