July 16, 2024

Greek Parliament Expected to Approve Austerity Plan

Stock markets rallied across Europe and much of Asia amid indications that the measures would be approved. Only one member of the governing Socialist Party, Alexandros Athanassiadis, now says he will oppose the package. Thomas Robopoulos, who had previously said he would oppose the measures, declared that he had changed his mind.

Protesters massed outside Parliament shouting “Traitors, traitors!” and the police repeatedly fired tear gas to maintain control after demonstrators knocked down a barrier.

As the vote neared, local media reported that the positions of two or three other party skeptics had softened, and Elsa Papadimitriou, a legislator from the leading opposition party, New Democracy, told Parliament on Wednesday that she would vote for the measures despite the opposition of the conservative leader Antonis Samaras. Calling it the “most difficult but valuable decision of my political career,” Ms. Papadimitriou said she hoped the government would not disappoint her.

Parliament was to vote on tax increases, wage cuts and the privatization of 50 billion euros, or about $72 billion, in state assets. Assuming the measures pass, a second vote will be held Thursday to implement the latest austerity program, with key sticking points expected to include the timing of the privatizations, especially of the state electric utility, Public Power Corporation, whose powerful union has close ties to the Socialists.

The nation’s unions complicated matters on Tuesday when they began a 48-hour general strike — the first time they had walked out for more than 24 hours since democracy was restored to Greece in 1974 after a seven-year military dictatorship. The police were calling in reinforcements to cordon off streets near Parliament to ensure that protesters did not block legislators’ access to the building, with 5,000 police officers on the job.

One protester, who would only give his first name, Theodore, said on Wednesday that Greeks’ lives “are going to change forever” if the measures were approved. “If you belong to the middle class, that doesn’t exist anymore. There’s only rich and poor.”

“What they’re voting on is exactly the opposite of what they were elected to do,” Anastasia Arvanitiki, 57, a pharmacist, said. “They’ll be the worst criminals in history” if the vote goes through, she said. “We want to see them hanged.”

Prime Minister George A. Papandreou has a five-vote parliamentary majority as he tries to push through the austerity plan, which strikes at the heart of his Socialist Party base. The center-right New Democracy opposition party has struck a populist tone and opposes the measures, saying they offer too much austerity and not enough stimulus.

Mr. Robopoulos, told state television on Tuesday that he would support the measures, “putting the national interest above everything else.” Earlier, he had said he would decide “at the very last moment, after I have listened to all the speakers,” referring to the debate in Parliament.

“This is a crucial moment; if the memorandum does not pass we shall go bankrupt,” Mr. Robopoulos added.

He spoke after talks with the new finance minister, Evangelos Venizelos, a longtime Socialist who is regarded as being able to rally the party behind the measures, however unpopular.

As lawmakers debated Tuesday, riot police clashed with protesters.

The protests Tuesday in Syntagma Square in front of Parliament began peacefully but turned violent as groups of youths on the fringes began throwing rocks, firebombs and firecrackers.

The European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund have said they will release $17 billion that Greece needs to pay its expenses through the summer if Parliament passes the measures.

“The only way to avoid immediate default is for Parliament to endorse the revised economic program,” said Olli Rehn, the European Union’s top economic and monetary affairs official. “Let me say this clearly: There is no Plan B to avoid default.”

In Brussels, European Union officials said they were working on contingency plans, including an effort to persuade the Greek opposition leader Antonis Samaras of the New Democracy Party to support the measures.

Last year, Greece’s foreign lenders imposed austerity measures after they provided a first round of aid. Since then, Greece has cut the wages of its 800,000 public workers — a quarter of the work force — by more than 10 percent.

The demonstration on Tuesday was one of the first in which labor unions joined with the younger demonstrators who have gathered in downtown Athens every night for the past month. Security forces fired tear gas to thin out the crowd, sending the demonstrators fleeing into side streets.

A police official said that 23 people were detained, with five later arrested, and that 21 officers were injured, none seriously.

Near Syntagma Square, a 40-year-old woman who gave her name only as Eirini, said she had been a secretary in a construction firm but had been out of work for more than five months.

“I’m here because we have nothing to lose,” she said, pushing down the surgical mask she used to filter out the tear gas. “We know very well that in six months, when they run out of money in the banks, we will be even more broke and hungry.”

She added, “I think that in one year, we are going to go to Syntagma, take out all the grass and plant tomatoes.”

Stephen Castle contributed reporting from Brussels.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=c7f1b2181af224a52ceaac4fe1b03c32

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