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Greek Parliament Passes Austerity Bill

DOHA, Qatar, Jun 29 2011 - The Greek parliament has passed an austerity package by a slim majority to slash 40 billion dollars off the national debt.

Wednesday’s vote saw 155 members of parliament vote in favour, 138 against and five abstentions.

The package of taxes, spending cuts and privatisations has angered many Greeks, with thousands taking to the streets as part of a 48- hour national strike protesting against the bill.

Parliament will hold a second vote on Thursday aimed at changing a law allowing the measures to be implemented.

George Papandreou, the Greek prime minister, has said the second bailout will be roughly equal a previous package last year.

Papanderou expelled a Greek ruling party deputy who voted against the austerity packagae.

The five-year austerity package will allow Greece to secure a second bailout of 17 billion dollars of emergency loan funds on top of last year’s 157-billion-dollar bailout.

Clashes outside parliament

The vote took place as clashes between police and protesters broke out outside parliament, with the booms of stun grenades and tear gas resonating across the square outside the building.

Riot police fired volleys of tear gas at swarms of young men who were hurling rocks and other debris as well as setting fire to rubbish containers.

Police with truncheons occasionally charged the demonstrators, but pulled back just as quickly.

As stun grenades boomed and flashed, many members of the crowds jeered and booed.

Most of the anti-government protesters who marched to the square stayed clear of the fighting, but they vented their anger at the political establishment with chants and insults.

Al Jazeera’s Barnaby Phillips reporting from Athens said, “Right around the centre of the city of Athens not just in Syntagma square the atmosphere is extremely volatile.

“I think the majority of people who came here were always very peaceful in terms of their intentions and they have tried to spend the day, in spite of the swelling tear gas in front of the parliament building expressing their concern.”

Matina Stevis, a Greek journalist, spoke to Al Jazeera and said, “I can almost hear the sighs of relief from the rest of Europe, but this is not good news, it has been an incredibly dramatic day in Athens.”

She worries that the austerity package is too harsh and unimplementable.

EU officials have called on Papanderou to draw the widest possible support. Christine Lagarde, named as the next head of the International Monetary Fund, called on Greece’s opposition parties to offer support. The IMF provides about 30 percent of Greece’s bailout fund.

European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council President, Herman Van Rompoy said in a statement that the Greek parliament’s approval of the bill is a “vital stap back” from a debt default.

The euro rose against the dollar after the parliament approved the austerity measures needed to avoid a default, though concern over whether the government can implement them could limit gains.

*Published under an agreement with Al-Jazeera.

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