Austerity Plan for Greece Wins Passage in Parliament
By NIKI KITSANTONIS
ATHENS — As hooded youths torched shops and battled police in the streets of Athens, lawmakers early Monday approved a tough austerity package that was expected to help the country avoid default.
Out of the 300 members of Parliament, 199 voted yes, 74 voted no, 5 voted present while 22 were absent.
Lawmakers accepted the plan after Greece’s so-called troika of foreign lenders — the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — had demanded the measures in exchange for about $170 billion in bailout money. The troika had also made passage a condition for sealing a deal in which private creditors will take voluntary losses of up to 70 percent of Greek debt.
The outcome was widely expected, though many lawmakers grudgingly voted yes.
Addressing Parliament, Prime Minister Lucas Papademos stressed that rejection of the bill would plunge the country into bankruptcy. He appealed to lawmakers to do their “patriotic duty” and make the “most significant strategic choice a Greek government has faced in decades.”
Still, he acknowledged that the program was “tough and calls for sacrifices from a broad range of citizens who have already made sacrifices.”
But the alternative — “a disastrous default” — would be worse, he said.
“Our country has been experiencing the biggest crisis since the restoration of democracy,” Mr. Papademos said referring to the fall of Greece’s military dictatorship in 1974. “It started as a crisis of fiscal deficit and public debt and has now become a broader economic, social and national crisis.”
As lawmakers debated, angry gangs outside smashed the facades of stores to loot them and targeted banks or branches of foreign chain stores. A Starbucks was among those to go up in flames. The crowd swelled as the day went on; chants of “traitors” were directed at the lawmakers inside Parliament.
Police said that dozens of stores had been torched or looted, adding that they had made more than 50 arrests. About 100 riot officers had been injured, the police said, while the local media reported that dozens of demonstrators had been hurt.
In his speech, Mr. Papademos appealed for calm. “In these critical hours, we don’t have the luxury for such clashes,” he said in comments directed toward the protesters.
Speaking in Parliament during a daylong debate, the leader of the conservative New Democracy Antonis Samaras, said that failure to pass the austerity measures would have been “a step into the void.”
The conservative leader, who is likely to be the next Greek prime minister, also reiterated calls for early elections after the debt swap deal was finalized. “With our vote today, we pave the way for immediate elections which will be liberating for society and stabilizing for democracy,” he said, adding that snap polls should be held in early April at the latest.
Protesters also directed their anger at Germany, which has consistently argued for a tough austerity package.
“We’ve fought several times for liberation, but this slavery is worse than any other,” said Stella Papafagou, 82, pulling down a surgical mask worn over her mouth to keep out tear gas being fired by the police to push back protesters from Parliament. “This is worse than the ’40s,” she said, referring to the Nazi occupation.
“This time the government is following the Germans’ orders,” she said. “I would prefer to die with dignity than with my head bent down.”
Her granddaughter Elina, a 25-year-old employee at a marketing company, said she was still living with her parents and grandmother as she could not afford to move out on a monthly wage of 600 euros, or $790, which she fears will be slashed. She said she had all but abandoned her hopes to become a journalist.
“The worst thing though is that we can’t have dreams for the future. They’ve killed our hope,” she said pointing in the direction of Parliament.
Natalia Stefanou, a 45-year-old shoe shop employee, said she had not been paid since September and feared she would lose her job soon.
“It’s not me I’m worried about though, I’ve got two children, aged 14 and 15, what kind of country are we going to leave them?” she said. Asked if the austerity bill would pass, she said she was sure it would. “They’ll find 151 traitors,” she said, referring to the majority required to push the measures into law.
Makis Barbarossos, 37, an insurance salesman, said he had lost faith in Greek politicians.
“They’re all sold out in there; they should be punished,” he said, waving a cigarette in the direction of the Parliament building. “We should put them in small, unheated apartments with 300-euro pensions and see can they live like that. Can they live how they’re asking us to live?” Asked what the solution was, his answer was blunt. “Three hundred nooses,” he said, referring to the 300 members of Parliament.