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Greece passes steep cuts as riots seize capital

    An elderly man watches the smoke of tear gas during clashes at the Athens' main Syntagma square, Wednesday, June 29, 2011. Greece's lawmakers approved a key austerity bill Wednesday needed to avert default next month, despite a second day of rioting on the streets of Athens that left dozens of police and protesters injured. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS, Greece >> Greek lawmakers are set to pass a bill Thursday to fast-track fresh austerity measures demanded by creditors, following two days of rioting in Athens that left more than 300 people injured and 50 stores damaged.

Greece’s international creditors have insisted that Greece back an austerity package and the associated implementation bill in return for giving more money to the country. On Wednesday, parliament approved the five-year €28 billion ($40 billion) package of spending cuts and tax increases, leaving details of the cuts to be approved Thursday.

Once, and if, Thursday’s bill to implement the austerity measures is cleared, the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund will be in a position to release the €12 billion ($17 billion) that is due from last year’s package of rescue loans for Greece. Many of the measures outlined will kick in almost immediately.

Without the financial assistance, Greece was facing bankruptcy as soon as the middle of July. A Greek default on its debts could trigger a major banking crisis and potential turmoil in global markets, similar to what happened when the Lehman Brothers investment house collapsed in 2008 in the United States.

As a result, markets around the world breathed a sigh of relief after Wednesday’s vote — while municipal authorities in the Greek capital grappled with the damage caused by two days of violent protests.

The next €12 billion EU-IMF loan installment will tide Greece over till mid-September, according to government officials, but it looks like it will need a lot more money in the years to come. Creditors are considering giving Greece a second, major support package to cover upcoming financing gaps.

Last year’s €110 billion ($159 billion) package was predicated on Greece being able to tap bond market investors for cash next year but with the country’s interest rates at exorbitant levels, that looks highly unlikely.

The austerity measures being imposed in Greece in return for outside help are being met with resistance.

On Wednesday, riots erupted for a second day outside the parliament in Athens, with police clashing and firing tear gas at protesters after a failed attempt to blockade the building. Police said 131 policemen were injured in two days of riotings, while emergency services said 181 civilians were hurt. Thirty-eight people were arrested.

Trade associations said about 50 stores had been damaged, mostly cafes and fast food restaurants near parliament, while tourists and other guests were evacuated from a central Athens hotel.

Municipal crews worked overnight to clear city center streets that had been strewn with smashed paving stones, mineral water bottles, torched trash bins and smashed glass.

Government officials said they were unhappy with policing of the riots which lasted nearly 10 hours Wednesday, but police spokesman Thanassis Kokkalakis said they had succeeded in protecting parliament and preventing serious injuries and property damage.

No major protests were planned Thursday, and power company workers called off a strike which had caused days of rolling blackouts. Ferry services to the Greek islands from greater Athens ports were canceled for a third day, however, due to a port workers’ strike.

A civil servants’ union said it would stage a central Athens rally later Thursday.

The Greek Hoteliers Association issued a call for restraint to police, unions and demonstrators, warning the violence could hit high-season bookings.

"Once again, a world audience witnessed television footage (of riots) that would discourage even the most determined prospective visitor from traveling to our country," as association statement said.

But Andreas Andreadis, head of Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises, told The Associated Press he did not believe the riots would have a lasting effect on a generally good year for the Greek holiday industry.

"There was a small dip in bookings, mainly to Athens, for the last four-or-five days, but it is likely to return to normal," he said. "We remain on course for a 10 percent increase in tourism bookings this year compared with 2010."


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