Greek lawmakers pass austerity budget

ATHENS, Greece, June 29 (UPI) -- Lawmakers approved some of the toughest economic measures in modern Greek history Wednesday as protesters blockaded the Parliament building in Athens.

Greece's parliament approved the five-year austerity plan that includes tax increases and job cuts 155-138, The Guardian reported.


Only one member of Prime Minister George Papandreou's Socialist party voted against the measure -- and the Parliament speaker announced the lawmaker was immediately expelled from the party, the British newspaper reported. One deputy from the conservative opposition cast a "yes" vote.

Greek riot police fired tear gas to keep crowds of protesters away from Parliament as lawmakers voted on the severe budget that could be critical to the future of Europe's major currency, the euro, CNN reported.

Demonstrators threw stones at police, chanted, waved Greek flags and lit fires in the streets.

Before the vote, protesters said they heard that Syntagma Square in front of the Parliament building would be cleared, The Guardian reported.

"We have heard that the aim of the government is to clear the square before Wednesday's vote on the measures," schoolteacher Pavlos Antonopoulos, 61, said. "That's when we will fight the big battle, when we will try to blockade the Parliament, when we will do everything humanly possible to stop parliamentarians [from] voting through the measures."


Antonopoulos was one of thousands of union members and others insisting lawmakers reject the demand of international creditors to impose $40 billion in new taxes and spending cuts on Greece while selling $71 billion in government assets.

Many demonstrators said the latest measures would wipe out the middle class, The Guardian reported.

The European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund say Greece has no choice but to pass the austerity measures if the government wants its next installment of aid, $17 billion, which it needs in July to meet summer expenses.

After a year of failing to deliver on promised reforms, officials say Greece has lost credibility with other EU countries and ECB and IMF officials, that gave Greece an ultimatum.

To protest the draconian measures, Greece's two umbrella unions staged a two-day strike starting Tuesday that disrupted public and private services nationwide, closed schools and government offices, and crippled rail, air and ferry services.

Hospitals and state-owned companies operated with skeleton staffs. Some bank employees, journalists and pharmacists staged their own walkouts, The Wall Street Journal reported.

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