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New Austerity anguish hits Athens

The Greek government has approved the latest austerity package needed to secure a new bailout despite internal feuds and violent protests on the capital’s streets.

Lawmakers approved the tax hikes, spending cuts and the controversial troika proposed measures that will make it easier for employers to fire and hire workers. As the votes were being counted, nearly 100,000 Greek citizens gathered in Syntagma square chanting “Fight! They are drinking our blood!”

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras will be breathing a sigh of relief that the measures got through. Without it the country was set to run out of money before the end of the year and would have created a situation that could have seen Greece descend into total chaos.

Despite the abstention of coalition partner the Democratic Left the vote was secured by 153 of the parliament’s 300 seats, with New Democracy and PASOK expelling seven deputies from their ranks for not backing the measures. The austerity package – Greece’s fourth in three years – is meant to close the nation’s budget deficit, lower its huge debt burden and make its economy more competitive.

Samaras tried his best to a positive spin on the situation saying; “Greece today took a great, decisive and positive step,” Samaras said in a statement after the tally. “This vote was a condition that will create jobs for our children, for all of Greece to see better days. The next step is the budget, which will also go well.”

“Many of these measures are fair and should have been taken years ago, without anyone asking us to,” Mr Samaras said.

“Others are unfair – cutting wages and salaries – and there is no point in dressing this up as something else,” the prime minister said, adding that Greece was, nevertheless, obliged to take the measures.

The new measures include;
• Retirement age up from 65 to 67
• A further round of pension cuts, of 5-15%
• Salary cuts, notably for police officers, soldiers, fire-fighters, professors, judges, justice officials; minimum wage also reduced
• Holiday benefits cut
• 35% cut to severance pay
• Redundancy notice reduced from six to four months

Earlier in the evening violence erupted as a handful of protestors attempted to break through a barrier in an effort to reach the parliament building. Riot police responded with tear gas and stun grenades and running street battles lasted for much of the night. Protesters threw Molotov cocktails and rocks at police causing fires to break out in some of the streets surrounding the parliament building.

Anger continues to mount among the Greek populace who have been pushed to the brink by the seemingly never ending austerity drive. The nation remains in a deep recession with no prospect of growth or an improvement to the situation in sight. Anger has also been growing at the relaxed approach consecutive governments have taken towards catching tax cheats; with many saying officials have dragged their feet on investigations to protect the wealthy elite.

“You live in constant fear and uncertainty. You never know what’s waiting for you around the corner,” said Panos Goutsis, 58, who works in a small corner shop in Athens.

“How many times will they tell us these are the last measures? We’re sick of hearing it.”

As a consequence of the riots up to at least 35 people were detained, there were no reports of serious injuries.

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