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Thursday, April 24, 2014  

Protests flare as Greece to vote on austerity bill
ATHENS Greek police on Wednesday used tear gas to disperse demonstrators protesting outside parliament ahead of a key vote on a new round of austerity measures.

Some protesters responded by hurling petrol bombs at police forces as the demonstration by some 70,000 people in Athens briefly flared up, a correspondent reported.

People massed outside parliament to protest against the 18.5-billion-euro ($23.6) austerity package, necessary to unlock EU-IMF aid and prevent imminent bankruptcy.

According to a police source, a group of nearly 300 people was repelled by tear gas and responded by throwing petrol bombs.

Twenty people were detained, according to the same source.

Meanwhile, a lengthy and fierce pre-vote parliamentary session attended by 300 lawmakers was interrupted after Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras announced that salary cuts would also affect parliamentary employees, who then responded by threatening to immediately go on strike.

Stournaras later recalled the proposal, for fear of endangering the vote process.

Lawmakers are expected to hold a late-night vote on the austerity bill, as a general strike organised by Greece’s two main labour unions paralysed the country for a second straight day.

The package, which includes spending cuts and other reforms to be implemented by 2016, is necessary for Greece to unlock a 31.5-billion-euro ($40.2 billion) tranche of aid from its troika of international creditors — the EU, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank.

Without the austerity package, Greece risks running out of money on November 16, posing the biggest challenge to the coalition government led by conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaris since it took office in June.

More than 70,000 people joined the protest rally outside parliament called by the main unions, amid a heavy turnout of police who blocked off access to the area immediately surrounding the building.

“It is certain the austerity measures will pass, we have known this for a very long time. It is a very well organised and planned crime against Greece and its civilians,” unemployed journalist Rena Maniou said.

The mass-selling Ta Nea newspaper branded the new austerity cuts as “poisonous”, but said: “Even if they are painful, they are vital for the country to emerge from recession and kickstart the economy.”

Public transport in Athens was out of service for a second day, although the metro was running partial services to ferry protesters into the city centre.

Pharmacies were closed and rubbish collectors joined other civil servants including post office and museum workers on the strike, leaving the streets of Athens littered with trash bags.

Dimitris Tsikerdis, 35, an IT contract worker and Syriza voter, said he believed the legislation will pass. But he said he would be joining the protest even if demonstrations “have changed nothing in Greece, not even the results of our elections” in June.

Agencies
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