Street protests erupt as Greek lawmakers debate austerity plan
Greek anti-austerity demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails at police in front of the country’s parliament building Wednesday, just as lawmakers began debate on tough demands by Athens’ international lenders in exchange for a new bailout.
Police responded with tear gas, sending the protesters scurrying into Syntagma Square. The violence marred otherwise peaceful protests as thousands marched through Athens to demonstrate against the austerity measures.
Members of parliament planned to debate the austerity plan during the evening. A vote was expected after midnight.
Greek pharmacists pulled down the shutters on their stores to protest proposed reforms Wednesday, while civil servants walked off their jobs. But one survey of Greeks showed 70 percent support for the bailout plan.
The International Monetary Fund warned that Athens’ debt is “highly unsustainable.”
The IMF predicted that Greece’s fortunes would worsen in the next two years, with its debt reaching close to twice that of its national economic product. It said the Greek debt, now tens of billions of dollars, could “only be made sustainable through debt relief measures that go far beyond what Europe has been willing to consider so far.”
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is facing an uprising from members of his own Syriza party over the austerity plans, with about 30 of the 162 Syriza lawmakers in the 300-member parliament voicing objections.
Tsipras is calling the new austerity measures “irrational,” and he acknowledged they are at odds with his election pledge just months ago calling for an end to austerity in Greece. But the Greek leader said he had to agree to them to avoid a Greek financial collapse.
Tsipras has rejected the possibility that he resign, saying, “I will not run away from my responsibilities.”
For two weeks now, Greek banks have been shut, with increasingly desperate depositors limited to daily withdrawals of 60 euros ($67) from cash machines.
“If something unexpected comes up,” Athens resident Kyriakoula Papakostantinou said, “there is no more money to pay for anything extra. We will make do for now. But if something unexpected comes up, we don’t know how we will handle it. There is a sense of insecurity.”
The austerity plan, submitted to parliament Tuesday, specifies new taxes, pension reforms and tighter supervision of government finances. European creditors have demanded parliamentary approval as a starting point for negotiations on the new bailout, which would be Greece’s third in five years.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Wednesday that he would submit the bailout plan to the Spanish parliament, to ensure support among Spaniards for the funds they will be obligated to contribute to the Athens loan. He did not say when a vote would take place.