Greece Passes $17.3 Billion Austerity Bill Amid Violent Protests

By: EW News Desk Team   Date: 8 November 2012

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08 November 2012

In a 14-hour debate marked by internal rifts and violent protests outside its gates, the Greek parliament narrowly voted to approve a sweeping set of austerity measures early Thursday, effectively ensuring that the troubled nation would remain within the eurozone and secure its next round of bailout funds from international lenders.

Despite the abstention of their junior ruling partner, the Democratic Left, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's New Democracy Party and his Socialist PASOK allies managed to pass the 500-odd-page Bill by a margin of 153 to 128 votes; though seven members from their parties were expelled, after the bill was adopted, for breaking party ranks.

Samaras said that he was “very happy” with the result, especially as Greece was likely to run out of money by November 16.

“Greece made a big decisive and optimistic step today. A step toward recovery,” Samaras said, as cited by the BBC.

Many of these measures are fair and should have been taken years ago, without anyone asking us to… Others are unfair – cutting wages and salaries – and there is no point in dressing this up as something else," the prime minister added, claiming that Greece was, nevertheless, obliged to take up the measures.

But the measures — including sharp cuts to pensions, salaries and social services, as well as tax increases and increases in the retirement age to 67 from 65 – were met with violent protests by Greek citizens, who attacked police with petrol bombs and flares outside the parliament building in Athens.

According to Reuters, a handful of protestors also tried to break through police barricades to enter the assembly, while several parliamentary workers had also briefly stopped the session by walking out when they discovered that their salaries would be cut.

“You can’t rebuild institutions when you’ve cut down the salaries of people who work for them,” said Alexis Papahelas, the managing editor of the Kathimerini daily, as cited by the New York Times. “That’s the big problem the government and the country are facing.”

“You are throwing people onto to the street, people who need a few more years till they get their pensions,” added Panagiotis Lafazanis of the main opposition Syriza, or Radical Left, party, angrily towards Samaras. “What will happen to them? Will they starve?”

Related: One-in-Four Greeks Unemployed as Austerity Bites

Related: Greece Promises Latest $14.4bn of Austerity Cuts “Will be the Last”

Related: Greece Could Lose Developed Market Status By 2014: MSCI

On his part, Samaras begged for calm and pleaded the parliament before the vote to pass the measures or face international and domestic chaos.

"Today we vote on whether we will remain in the eurozone or return to international isolation, meet complete bankruptcy and end up in the drachma," Samaras was quoted as saying by Reuters.

This (bill) will finally rid the country of drachmophobia,” he said.

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