Violence as Greece debates reforms needed for bailout

Anti-austerity protesters hurled petrol bombs at police guarding the Greek parliament Wednesday as MPs debated deeply unpopular reforms they need to vote in to clear the way for a eurozone rescue of Greece`s failing economy.

AFP| Last Updated: Jul 16, 2015, 06:49 AM IST

Athens: Anti-austerity protesters hurled petrol bombs at police guarding the Greek parliament Wednesday as MPs debated deeply unpopular reforms they need to vote in to clear the way for a eurozone rescue of Greece`s failing economy.

Riot police used tear gas to push back dozens of hooded protesters and secure the area in front of the parliament building after the demonstrators` Molotov cocktails set ablaze parts of Syntagma square in central Athens.

The street violence reflected broad public anger at measures now backed by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras despite a July 5 referendum rejecting near-identical terms from Greece`s creditors.

Tsipras is facing a revolt over the reforms from his radical left ruling Syriza party, which came to power in January on anti-austerity promises.

But the bills nevertheless looked likely to pass though parliament with the support of pro-European opposition parties.

Syriza`s hardline leftists, led by Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, were reported by Greek media to be ready to vote against the measures while calling for a return to the drachma.

Lafazanis himself insisted "several MPs including myself" would not approve the measures, but nevertheless said the party and government would not be jeopardised.

If the sweeping changes to Greece`s taxes, pensions and labour rules are adopted, it could unlock a rescue of up to 86 billion euros ($94 billion) agreed by eurozone leaders on Monday -- as long as some other European parliaments also give their OK.

But the viability of the bailout was in doubt after the International Monetary Fund issued a stark warning that Greece`s creditors will have to go "far beyond" existing estimates for debt relief -- an issue eurozone hawks such as Germany have already rejected out of hand.Tsipras has said he did "not believe in" the deal but agreed to sign it "to avoid disaster" as his country teetered on the brink of economic collapse.

His finance minister, Euclid Tsakalotos, said during Wednesday`s parliamentary debate that his decision to also back the bailout terms was something that "will burden me my whole life".

He added: "I don`t know if we did the right thing. I do know we did something we felt we had no choice over."

Tsipras`s government suffered its first resignations over its U-turn acceding to creditors` demands, with a junior finance minister and a senior economy ministry official walking out in protest.

An IMF official said the fund would only participate in a third bailout if EU creditors produce a clear plan. The current deal "is by no means a comprehensive, detailed agreement," the official said.

French MPs however overwhelmingly backed the agreement on Wednesday, with Prime Minister Manuel Valls saying it was the only way out of the crisis.

EU powerhouse Germany`s Bundestag is set to vote on the plan on Friday.

Under the deal, eurozone governments will contribute between 40 and 50 billion euros, the IMF will contribute another chunk and the rest will come from selling off state assets and from financial markets, a European official said.

Tsipras has admitted he "cannot say with certainty" that it will be enough to prevent a so-called "Grexit" until the final bailout agreement is signed.

Polls published late Tuesday by Kapa Research found 72 percent of Greeks surveyed thought the deal was necessary, if tough, but many nevertheless saw it as a humiliating climbdown for a country still reeling from years of painful austerity.

Despite the turmoil, 68 percent of people said that if the political fallout from the vote should result in a new coalition, it should be led by Tsipras.Under the deal, Greek assets for privatisation will be parked in a special fund worth up to 50 billion euros, with some 25 billion euros of the money earmarked to recapitalise Greece`s banks.

The European Central Bank has been keeping Greek banks afloat with emergency liquidity, but it could be forced to cut off that aid if Greece misses a huge debt repayment due on Monday.

European governments are meanwhile divided over options to help Greece meet its short-term cash needs while it waits for the eurozone bailout deal to be finalised, which will likely take at least four weeks.

The European Commission on Wednesday formally backed a controversial proposal to use an EU-wide crisis fund to cover Greece`s short-term cash needs, officials said, setting up a clash with Britain and Germany.

In a sign of the concern about the fallout of the crisis, US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew will travel to Germany and France on Wednesday and Thursday for talks.