Greece passes austerity measures despite protests

Tens of thousands march in protest on the streets of Athens over move to slash pensions and civil servants' pay and increase consumer taxes.

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ATHENS // A day after protests in Athens killed three people, tens of thousands of more marched through the capital yesterday after parliament passed austerity measures needed to secure US$149 billion in international loans. The measures, which will slash pensions and civil servants' pay and increase consumer taxes, passed by a 172-121 vote in parliament.

Three Socialist legislators who dissented in the vote were expelled by George Papandreou, the Greek prime minister, reducing the party's seats to 157 in the 300-member parliament. Demonstrators shouting anti-government slogans through loudspeakers, unfurled a giant black banner outside parliament. More than 30,000 demonstrators filled downtown streets, chanting "They declared war. Now fight back."

"We have done what was necessary, not what was easy," George Papaconstantinou, the finance minister, said after the vote. "Without these measures, we'd be thrown into the deepest recession this country has ever known." The minister said Greece would default on debt payments this month unless it received the bailout loans from the International Monetary Fund and 15 euro zone countries who had remained divided for months on how to aid Athens. Greek democracy has been "put to the test" and violent protests during which three people died are "not a solution" to the country's crisis, Mr Papandreou told parliament yesterday before the vote.

"The future of Greece is at stake. The economy, democracy and social cohesion are being put to the test," he told lawmakers during a debate on an unprecedented government austerity drive. In a heated address, he said "neither rocks nor violence will get Greece out of the guardianship" of the European Union or the International Monetary Fund, which have demanded the austerity measures for an international bailout.

He said that the "vote is only the start" and that "the application of the plan requires a responsible position from the parties and society ? Everyone must take their responsibilities." "We will work hard so that today's Greek problem becomes tomorrow's Greek miracle," he said. "Today things are simple. The rescue loans are aimed at containing the debt crisis and keeping Greece's troubles from spreading to other countries with vulnerable state finances such as Portugal and Spain. The money will come from the International Monetary Fund and the 15 other governments whose countries use the euro. Opposition parties lambasted the government for imposing measures that are too harsh for the population to bear. "The dose of the medicine you are administering is in danger of killing the patient," the conservative opposition leader Antonis Samaras said. "You know that these measures have sparked a social explosion ... The citizens of this country have to believe there is a way out. Because whoever cuts pensions ... cannot convince anyone." Mr Samaras also expelled a dissenting legislator, the former foreign minister Dora Bakoyiannis, reducing his share of parliamentary seats to 90.