Greek parliament ratifies austerity bill ahead of Eurogroup meeting

2017-05-18 22:31:05 GMT2017-05-19 06:31:05(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

ATHENS, May 18 (Xinhua) -- Greek parliament on Thursday approvedan austerity bill for new pension cuts and tax hikes through 2020,ahead of Monday's Eurogroup meeting in Brussels to continue vitalloan payouts and start talks on debt relief.

The legislation, which has sparked fierce reactions byopposition parties and trade unions, passed with the 153 votes infavor of all MPs of the two-partite ruling coalition, while 128lawmakers voted against.

A total of 281 legislators participated in the roll call voteheld Thursday night and 19 were absent.

The bill introduces a fresh round of austerity measures proposedby the Greek government in a bid to close the pending bailoutreview and secure further aid by international lenders.

During a speech before the plenary shortly before the vote,Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said that Greece will exit thememorandum programs in 2018.

"The review closes and after seven years we head towards acomprehensive agreement, to lead Greece out of the memorandumprograms. We have finally reached a positive agenda both for thecountry and the society," said Tsipras.

The vote in parliament followed a long string of protestsorganized by umbrella trade unions of public and private sectoremployees, and other professionals outside the parliament buildingin Athens and major cities nationwide.

The demonstration ended in riots between hooded youth andanti-riot police on Syntagma square in front of the parliamentbuilding.

A person who had an ax and a hammer in his possession wasarrested. No severe injuries were reported.

The Left-led government defends the new package of tax hikes,pension cuts and reforms as a necessary step to ensure more help bycreditors and start talks on debt relief to move forward, exit thecrisis and restore growth.

Cabinet ministers have underlined that by 2021, the newausterity wave of 4.9 billion euros (5.4 billion U.S. dollars)total worth will be counterbalanced by parallel reliefmeasures.

Addressing the parliament on Thursday evening, main oppositionNew Democracy party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis accused thegovernment of transforming the country into a colony of austeritywith no end.

"Greece is living a nightmare which is the result of Mr.Tsipras' and Mr. Kammenos' (Defense minister and the leader ofIndepender Greeks) decisions. Greece would have been a normalEurozone country today, if its path had not been interrupted," saidMitsotakis.

On his part, Tsipras responded to Mitsotakis by saying thatMitsotakis supported the views of "the most extreme circles" duringthe negotiations between the government and Greece's lenders.

In the upcoming meeting of Eurozone finance ministers, Athensexpects that the second review of Greece's third bailout in sevenyears will close and the path to debt relief will open.

The ratification of the bill also opened the road for Greece toparticipate in the European Central Bank's (ECB) quantitativeeasing program this summer and tap the capital markets for firsttime since 2014, Greek banking sources said. Enditem