Greek MPs pass austerity measures

Greek governmentThe Greek parliament has given its final approval to the latest package of austerity measures.

All but one of the deputies from the ruling Pasok party voted in favour of the law.The approval comes despite two days of violent protests against its provisions, which include cutting public sector wages and raising taxes.One man has died as battles erupted at a large rally outside the Greek parliament in Athens.The dead man was identified by Greek media as a middle-aged trade unionist.”The demonstrator died of a heart attack,” Deputy Citizens Protection Minister Manolis Othonas told Reuters. “He was not hurt in the incidents.” The country is in the grip of a 48-hour general strike in protest at the cuts.

The government’s bill is needed to secure EU and IMF bailout loans.The member of the ruling socialist party who voted against it, Louka Katseli, has been expelled from the party by Prime Minister George Papandreou.Civil servants, shopkeepers, dock workers, taxi drivers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, construction workers and others were all due to take part in the strike, which began on Wednesday.An estimated 50,000 protesters gathered on Syntagma Square, in front of parliament, on Thursday.

The bill includes plans for further cuts to pensions and salaries and temporary lay-offs of 30,000 public sector workers.With Greece unable to borrow on international bond markets to finance its debt, the EU and IMF have stepped in with two bailout packages.Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos described the choice as between a “difficult situation and a catastrophe”.”We have to explain to all these indignant people who see their lives changing that what the country is experiencing is not the worst stage of the crisis,” he said.”It is an anguished and necessary effort to avoid the ultimate, deepest and harshest level of the crisis.”

There are fears that if the Greek government defaults on its debts, it will set off a chain reaction that could engulf banks and other highly indebted eurozone nations.But the government is struggling to convince lenders that it is cutting effectively enough. Greece says it needs the next 8bn euros ($11bn; £7bn) of the first bailout agreed to last year or it will soon be unable to pay its bills.The details of the second rescue plan have yet to be finalised. Banks have agreed to take a 21% loss, or “haircut”, on their loans to Greece but there is growing pressure for them to accept higher losses.European leaders and global finance chiefs are trying to work out a broader plan to tackle the eurozone’s debt crisis ahead of a weekend summit in Brussels. – BBC