Greek lawmakers to vote on austerity amid strikes

Greek lawmakers vote Wednesday on a new austerity package needed to unlock international aid and stave off imminent bankruptcy, facing a social unrest and and public protests against billions more euros in tax hikes and pension cuts.

A strike is expected to paralyse Athens for a second straight day and Greeks plan to mass outside parliament to voice their opposition to further sacrifices as the country heads for its sixth year in recession.

With the government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras facing its biggest crisis since taking office in June, lawmakers were due to hold a late-night vote on the package of 18.5 billion euros ($23.6 billion) in new spending cuts and other reforms by 2016.

Implementing the austerity plan is a condition for Greece to receive a 31.5-billion-euro tranche of bailout funds from its troika of international creditors -- the European Union, International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank.

Without it, Greece risks running out of money on November 16 when a debt repayment falls due.

Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras implored lawmakers on Monday to vote for the package, particularly reluctant members of the governing coalition, saying securing the new aid was vital to "to avoid default and bankruptcy".

Despite the country approaching bankruptcy and a possible euro exit once again, many Greeks are angry at repeatedly having to tighten their belts. Observers nevertheless expect parliament will eventually pass the proposals.

The mass-selling Ta Nea branded the new austerity cuts as "poisonous", but said: "Even if they are painful, they are vital for the country to emerge from recession and kickstart the economy."

"Crucial vote for the future of the government and the aid tranche," added Kathimerini.

Tens of thousands of people had turned out in Athens and the northern city of Thessaloniki on Tuesday to protest at the latest measures. Another demonstration is due to take place on Wednesday from 1500 GMT outside parliament.

Police estimated that 40,000 people joined an Athens rally on Tuesday in Syntagma Square near parliament under banners. They shouted "No to measures of impoverishment" and "The people above everything else -- not numbers and measures." Another 20,000 turned out in Thessaloniki.

"The people came here today to protest against the measures that bring us back centuries. They are abolishing our rights, and depriving our children's future," said teacher Thanassis Pargas at the rally in Athens.

Traffic was paralysed in the capital as public transport workers joined a 48-hour general strike launched Tuesday.

Ferry services were also crippled, with ships linking Greece's islands remaining docked.

Many flights were cancelled or rescheduled as air traffic controllers staged a three-hour work stoppage.

Judges and lawyers also joined the strike while publicly-run museums, archaeological sites and post offices were shut.

The measures to be voted on Wednesday include a rise in the retirement age to 67 from the current 65, and cuts of five to 10 percent in pensions of more than 1,000 euros a month.

Civil servants' 13th and 14th month pay would be scrapped, and further salary cuts imposed on academics, hospital doctors, judges, diplomats and members of the armed forces.

"These measures essentially bring us many years back. All the labour rights the Greek people won post-World War II and post-dictatorship are taken back," said union activist Marie Lavrentiadou at the Athens rally.

"The measures will be voted in (Wednesday), but the measures are not voted in the conscience of the Greek people and they can be ousted," she charged.

However the government has warned that the country has no choice but to adopt the measures if Greece wants to stay solvent and in the eurozone.

Eurozone creditors were due to make a decision on the bailout funds -- part of a massive rescue package for Greece -- at meeting of finance ministers on Monday.

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