Greece paralysed again as austerity vote looms

The austerity bill won initial approval in a first vote on Wednesday night, and deputies are now to vote on the details.

Athens: More than 10,000 protesters gathered outside the Greek Parliament on Thursday, ahead of a vote on intensely unpopular new measures needed to secure continued payment of international rescue loans that have prevented bankruptcy.

On the second day of a general strike that`s seen the country paralysed, a communist party-backed union has said it will try to encircle Parliament in a peaceful bid to prevent lawmakers from accessing the building for the final vote on spending cuts and tax hikes required by Greece`s international creditors. But riot police moved to foil the attempt by blocking off the main avenues leading to Parliament.

Several separate demonstrations were due to converge later in the day on Syntagma Square in front of Parliament, where more than 100,000 people gathered on Wednesday to protest the draft legislation. Though largely peaceful, Wednesday`s protest was marred by attacks on police and public property.

The austerity bill won initial approval in a first vote on Wednesday night, and deputies are now to vote on the details, which include the suspension on reduced pay of 30,000 public servants and the suspension of collective labor contracts.

Creditors have demanded the measures before they give Greece more funds from a EUR 110 billion (USD 152.11 billion) package of bailout loans from other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund. Greece says it will run out of money in mid-November without the next EUR 8 billion (USD 11 billion) instalment.

The next instalment has yet to be authorised and there`s growing unease in the markets about whether a summit of eurozone leaders this Sunday in Brussels will yield a comprehensive solution to the continent`s debt crisis, that`s also seen Ireland and Portugal bailed out as well as Greece.

The Greek government`s latest round of austerity measures are expected to pass though deputies from the governing Socialist party have expressed outrage, with several indicating they could vote against some of the more contentious articles in the bill. Dissent could further weaken Prime Minister George Papandreou`s slim majority in Parliament, where he holds 154 of the legislature`s 300 seats.

Unions seemed resigned to the law being passed, but warned that the whole country virulently opposed it.

"It looks as if (lawmakers) may be set to vote in favour of the new austerity law," said Ilias Iliopoulos, secretary general of the Adedy civil servants` union. "But they have no popular consent. Our European friends must know that our prime minister will go to the European summit naked, because the promises he will make have no backing in his country and cannot be enforced."

Thursday`s protests come a day after a massive demonstration that the liberal Eleftherotypia newspaper described as an "address by the people”. But the rally degenerated into violence, with several hundred black-clad demonstrators pelting riot police with chunks of marble, paint and gasoline bombs. Police responded with volleys of tear gas and stun grenades that reverberated across the Greek capital`s main square.

The clashes continued sporadically into the night in the back streets near Syntagma, where protesters set fire to piles of garbage festering on the streets after a strike by municipal workers.

Authorities said 50 police and at least three protesters were injured in the clashes.

The second day of the general strike on Thursday was disrupting public transport and left ships docked at port, schools and customs offices closed and state hospitals running on emergency staff. All public services were shut, while lawyers and prison guards were among those staying away from work.

Bureau Report

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