Greece's parliament set to approve final austerity bill
Greece's parliament began debating a final austerity bill needed to secure international aid to prevent a default Thursday, following two days of violent demonstrations that left hundreds injured in Athens, DPA reported.
Parliament approved a package of austerity measures in a crucial first step to help the country avoid a history-making bankruptcy on Wednesday and is expected to pass the second and final bill covering 78-billion-euros in tax hikes, spending cuts and privatisations.
Thursday's vote will include individual budget measures and foresees the creation of a privatisation agency.
The vote is not expected to take place before 2 pm (1100 GMT).
Approval of the austerity plans is a crucial step for Greece receiving a next instalment of loans totalling 12 billion euros from a 110-billion-euro bailout fund supplied by the EU and IMF a year ago.
Without the instalment, Greece would face the prospect of becoming the first eurozone member to default on its debts, in turn sparking turmoil on global financial markets.
Passage of the laws are also needed to proceed with talks for a second and longer-term bailout of about the same size since Greece will not be able to return to bond markets until the end of 2013.
While the initial response to the first Greek vote across Europe was relief, there is still concern over whether the government will be able to implement the unpopular cuts.
"The fact that the Greek parliament has passed the government's medium-term fiscal plan clearly reduces the chances of a near-term disaster," said Ben May, an economist from Capital Economics in London.
"But there are major challenges still ahead. The next is to reach an agreement on a second bailout package, the crux of which will be the plans for some form of debt rollover," May said.
Implementing the measures will be a hurdle for the ruling Socialist PASOK government whose popularity has dropped in opinion polls and has faced months of strikes and violent demonstrations by the country's unions.
"Orgy of state terrorism," read the headline of liberal leftist newspaper Eleftherotypia while center-right newspaper Elefteros Typos said the mid-term fiscal plan will be implemented with blood and tears from the average citizen.
More than 500 people required immediate medical treatment for minor injuries and respiratory problems after police fired teargas to disperse angry crowds near parliament as the first bill was being voted in.
Doctors said 100 demonstrators and at least 49 police officers were taken to hospital.
Hundreds of hooded youths clashed with riot police throughout the night early Thursday, leaving burned debris and shattered glass in their wake.