Clashes in Greece ahead of key austerity vote

The BBC's Mark Lowen: "There have been very ugly scenes indeed this evening"

Protesters in Greece have clashed with riot police as MPs prepare to vote on a fresh round of austerity measures to secure the next round of bailout funds.

The police fired tear gas towards the protesters when they were attacked with petrol bombs in the capital Athens.

Parliament is due to vote on 13.5bn euros ($17.3bn; £10.5bn) of measures, including tax rises and pension cuts.

PM Antonis Samaras said without the bailout Greece would run out of money this month and face "catastrophe".

The fresh package of austerity measures - Greece's fourth in three years - is meant to close Greece's budget deficit, lower its huge debt burden and make its economy more competitive.

Analysis

As the heated parliamentary debate continues, outside the building the all-too-familiar scenes of violence are unfolding.

Protesters have hurled petrol bombs at riot police, who responded with volleys of tear gas. Flares have been hurled inside the security cordon around parliament and the police have charged the protesters into one corner of the square. The peaceful protest of the majority has turned ugly.

Meanwhile, MPs are poring over what the prime minister says will be the last austerity package that Greece must endure.

Earlier, parliamentary staff started a strike over some measures, potentially delaying the vote. It's now ended, but if democracy itself can't continue here, what can?

The austerity package should pass - just. But the scenes on the square are a noisy reminder that implementing these cuts will be an extraordinarily difficult task.

It includes a two-year increase in the retirement age from the current average of 65, as well as salary cuts and labour market reforms including cuts to holiday benefits, notice periods and severance pay.

Workers fear this will just make it easier and cheaper for them to be fired at a time when unemployment has already soared to 25% and a five-year recession means there are few job prospects.

'Absurd' bailouts

On Wednesday, tens of thousands of demonstrators continued their protest in Syntagma Square - outside the parliament building in the heart of the capital.

The protesters chanted: "People - don't bow your heads!"

Some in the crowd held giant flags of Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain - four of the eurozone's most heavily-indebted states.

The riot police - who sealed off the parliament - later fired tear gas after the demonstrators attacked them with petrol bombs and flares.

Protests are also taking place in other big cities across Greece.

The Greek unions are staging what they described as the "mother of all strikes" - a 48-hour walkout which culminates on Wednesday evening.

Measures in austerity package

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

The third major strike in just two months brought public transport to a halt and shut schools, banks and government buildings.

Alexis Tsipras, leader of the left-wing opposition party Syriza, said: "The bailout policies are completely catastrophic, outrageously absurd, and an utter failure.

"Let's not kid ourselves. The bailouts can no longer be acceptable, not even under the toughest blackmail," he told the Efimerida Syntakton newspaper.

The government is confident it will get a slim majority when the vote takes place, the BBC's Mark Lowen in Athens reports.

But this level of resistance on the street is a reminder that implementing the measures will be extraordinarily difficult, our correspondent says.

Tight vote

Wednesday's vote on the cuts will be followed by a second vote this Sunday on Greece's revised budget for 2013.

A positive vote on both is required for Greece to secure 31.5bn euros in fresh loans from the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Key dates

  • 6-7 Nov General strike
  • 7 Nov Vote on austerity package
  • 11 Nov Vote on budget
  • 12 Nov Eurozone finance ministers to discuss releasing new cash for Greece
  • 16 Nov Deadline for Greece to repay 5bn euros in debt

Mr Samaras has said that without this money, which will be used largely to recapitalise the country's banks, the country will be bankrupt by 15 November.

However, the Democratic Left Party, which is the junior member of the three-party governing coalition, is refusing to back the austerity package.

The second biggest coalition party, the socialist Pasok, is also facing a rebellion by some of its MPs.

Despite the opposition, analysts are optimistic the fresh cuts will be approved.

Mr Samaras is believed to have the support of about 154 votes in the 300-seat parliament, assuming there are no more defections.

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