Greek lawmakers pass crucial austerity bill

Greek lawmakers pass crucial austerity bill

Greece's parliament passed a crucial austerity and debt relief bill on Monday as violent riots raged through Athens with looted shops and dozens of buildings engulfed in flames, dpa reported.

A total of 199 lawmakers in the 300-member parliament voted in favor of the bill, while the coalition government expelled 43 deputies over dissent in the crucial debt vote, reducing their majority from 236 to 193.

Athens must now persuade its international lenders, the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that it has the will to implement the array of spending cuts and public sector reforms required to release 130 billion euros (171 billion dollars) in emergency loans.

Thick clouds of smoke and tear gas filled the air around parliament as the voting took place, with demonstrators setting more than 20 buildings, including apartments, shops, banks, cafes, two cinemas and a museum ablaze. Looters could be seen smashing their way through dozens of shops in the worst damage the country has seen in years.

Greek riot police clashed with more than 2,000 black-hooded anarchists carrying clubs and petrol bombs on dozens of fronts across the city filled with smashing glass and burnt wreckage.

More than 80 people, including 30 police officers, were reported injured and 25 arrests were made, police said. Another 30 people were detained.

Prime Minister Lucas Papademos appealed for calm to be restored to the country as the voting got underway in parliament.

"The destruction taking place outside this building has no place in democracy," Papademos said. "I call on the public to show calm - during this crucial and serious period we do not have the luxury of this type of protest."

Earlier thousands of protesters, many of them wearing gas masks, marched to parliament to rally against the drastic cuts, which include slashing the minimum wage by 22 per cent, pension cuts and laying off one in five civil servants.

Organizers put the number of marchers at more than 200,000, but police told dpa that the demonstrators numbered 55,000.

While most of the protesters were peaceful, dpa reporters saw several hundred of them fighting alongside the anarchists at various locations around the city centre, tearing chunks of marble broken off the fronts of luxury hotels and shops.

Unlike on previous occasions, the anarchists were applauded by other demonstrators as they made their way toward the parliament building in Syntagma Square.

Among those who joined the campaign against Greece accepting a bailout in return for harsh measures were well-known composer Mikis Theodorakis, 86, and veteran leftist politician Manoli Glezos, 89.

Giorgos Makris, a 44-year-old mathematics teacher, said he was not going to back-down and would continue to fight against the harsh new measures.

"I am fighting for my future which they have destroyed by cutting my salary by 20 per cent," he said.

Meanwhile, Greece's eurozone partners kept up the pressure for real reforms, with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble saying Greeks should be aware of the fact that there was a need for dramatic change.

"That's why now promises are not enough anymore," Schaeuble said in remarks carried by the newspaper Welt am Sonntag. d

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