Sunday, May 08, 2016

Greek Parliament Approves Controversial Austerity Measures Amid Violent Protests, Riot Police Clashes
Small fires surround riot police on a street in Athens.

Greek MPs have passed a controversial package of pension reforms and tax hikes despite mass public opposition, bowing to creditor demands in the hope of unlocking the next round of badly needed bailout funds.

The unpopular measures were adopted thanks to the slim parliamentary majority held by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's coalition government — the main New Democracy opposition party voted against the austerity package.

Earlier outside parliament, Greek riot police fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators throwing Molotov cocktails to protest against the reforms.

Greek television showed police firing volleys of tear gas in response to projectiles lobbed by masked youths during the demonstration, which attracted about 10,000 people.

Mr Tsipras's government was seeking to adopt the new measures ahead of a crunch meeting of eurozone creditors in Brussels on Monday.

The reforms will reduce Greece's highest pension payouts, merge several pension funds, increase contributions and raise taxes for those on medium and high incomes.

The austerity measures are part of a package demanded by the EU and IMF in exchange for the next round of an 86 billion euro ($133 billion) bailout agreed in July, the third for the debt-laden country since 2010.

Central Athens was largely closed to traffic with riot police vehicles parked in front of the parliament ahead of the vote.

Days of strikes cripple public transport

Elsewhere in the city there was a strong police presence, although numbers were significantly down on February protests when 40,000 people marched in Athens alone.

Mr Tsipras defended the reforms on Friday, telling politicians from his left-wing Syriza party — which holds a slim majority of 153 seats in the 300-seat parliament — that they would spare the poorest.

Reforming Greece's bloated pension system was crucial to prevent "the system collapsing in a few years", Mr Tsipras added.

Greece's budget deficit has ballooned as it struggles to keep up with mammoth debt payments.

The country is in the grip of the third day of strikes that have paralysed public transport across the country.

During the stoppages, the fourth general strike since Mr Tsipras came to office in January 2015, the public sector has operated at a snail's pace, while most TV and radio stations have refused to air news bulletins.

Despite the pressure from the strikes, Employment Minister Georgios Katrougalos stood by the pension overhaul, pointing to a funding shortfall of 2 billion euros ($3.1 billion).

"This reform should have been done decades ago," he said.


No comments: