Lawmakers approve key austerity measures amid fresh protests

A budget containing severe spending cuts and tax hikes to help Greece secure a joint EU-IMF bailout deal was approved in a preliminary parliamentary vote Thursday, as thousands returned to the streets in protest against the measures.

The Greek parliament approved on Thursday draconian austerity measures demanded by Athens’ eurozone partners and the IMF in return for a 110-billion-euro bailout to avert a financial meltdown.

The Socialist government won backing for spending cuts and tax hikes with 172 votes in favour out of 296 lawmakers present, as thousands of demonstrators protested outside.

Socialists and the far-right voted in favour, while 121 conservative, communist and radical left lawmakers voted against.

Pushed to the brink of default, the Greek government agreed last weekend to slash spending and jack up taxes in return for 110 billion euros in loans over three years from eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund.

Under the plan, the government is to cut 13th and 14th month bonus pay for civil servants and retirees, require three years more for pension contributions, and raise the retirement age for women to 65.

On the eve of the vote, Greece was paralysed by a general strike and three people died in firebombed bank in central Athens as huge protests degenerated into rioting.

The unprecedented plan aims to cut the public deficit by 30 billion euro to bring it to less than three percent of output by 2014 from nearly 14 percent last year.

More than 10,000 people demonstrated peacefully in Athens as lawmakers voted on the drastic austerity package with about 5,000 trade union protesting in front of the parliament, police spokesman Thanassis Kokalakis said.

The protestors unfurled a long black cloth in a sign of mourning for three people who died in the bank firebombing.

Meanwhile, the PAME communist union drew 6,000 protestors at a separate square in central Athens, Kokalakis said.

Greece’s main unions have condemned Wednesday’s deadly violence, while calling on their members to keep up the momentum of demonstrations against the planned spending cuts and tax hikes.