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7 Nov, 2012 09:42

Chaos in Athens: Greece in for new round of austerity as protests rage

A new Greek austerity package has passed with the majority of votes in favor. The vote came as thousands gathered in Athens to protest the new round of cuts. Clashes flared up as police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd.

A hundred and fifty-three parliamentarians voted in favor of the new cuts, which the ‘Troika’ demanded in exchange for a new round of EU bailout funds.Earlier on Wednesday, thousands of people gathered in front of the Parliament building to protest against new cuts to the country's budget. Demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails at security forces. At least 100 people have been arrested in Athens following the protest.A bus stop and kiosk were set on fire, according to RT correspondent Peter Oliver, who was at the scene. A deluge of water was used to douse the flames.At least 100,000 protesters are estimated to be gathered in front of the Parliament building.“Protesters are fighting a running battle… It’s an Athens urban warzone… I can barely see,” Oliver said."There are huge flash bangs near Syntagma Square. Protesters are chanting for bread and freedom – they're accusing Greece of being a dictatorship," he continued.Police tried to move demonstrators away from banks near the square. 

The clashes came ahead of a Parliament vote on new austerity measures demanded by the EU in exchange for further bailout funds. Opposition MPs forced a voting delay on the matter Wednesday. The demonstration was the latest in a string of weeklong nationwide protests that shut down most public transport, schools, banks and government offices. The new measures would amount to some €13.5 billion in cuts to Greece's national budget by 2016.Once the vote takes place, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is expected to narrowly win the support required to pass the new austerity package. Samaras’ 176-member conservative-liberal coalition needs to gather 151 votes out of 300 in Parliament for passage.The second day of the nationwide strike, which is expected to last for the rest of the week, has seen most of the country brought to a standstill. Hospitals are working with skeleton crews, while media broadcasts and publications were halted until further notice after journalists joined the strikers.Brussels demands a new draft of budget cuts in order for Greece to qualify for another loan – totaling more than €31 billion ($39.63 billion) – from the ‘Troika,' which consists of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.The new bailout was put on hold after Greece failed to reach earlier fiscal commitments. The Greek Parliament remains divided over the issue, with the Democratic Left Party, which comprises one third of the governing coalition refusing to back the measures, pledging to vote ‘present’ instead of ‘no.’The measures stipulate a two-year increase in the Greek retirement age to 67, and several tax hikes. The new package also includes provisions making it easier to fire civil servants, which has provoked the ire of public workers amid a current unemployment rate of over 25 per cent.The vote represents a crucial test for Samaras’ government, as a ‘yes’ vote would ensure more cash for Athens to pay off its debts later this month, despite the multibillion-euro new debt taken on. A ‘no’ vote could shatter Samaras’ fragile coalition.

More cuts, more protests

Anti-austerity demonstrations in Greece have frequently turned violent, leading to clashes between police and disgruntled youths.On Tuesday, crowds numbered as high as 35,000 in Athens as Greeks marched to condemn the government for sparing the nation’s wealthy while saddling the poor with austerity.Earlier, Samaras said that this round of budget cuts would be the last to affect wages and pensions. However, Panagiotis Sotiris, a lecturer at the University of the Aegean, thinks there's more budgetary pain ahead.“Every austerity package in the last two and a half years was supposed to be the last one. So it won’t be the last one this time. We are going to see more of this,” Sotiris told RT. “In just two days of discussion, the Parliament is going to pass a huge law. We are very far from democratic procedure. This is a set of measures, which are actually dictated by the Troika.” The government also needs to clear another hurdle on Sunday: The passage of the 2013 budget, which will require gaining the support of the Democratic Left.