NEWS

Parliament vote brings rift in PASOK

A crucial Parliamentary vote on a bill containing a raft of reforms on Tuesday night saw a rift in PASOK, especially in regards to the liberalization of pharmacies, with a number of socialist lawmakers voting against Article 29 of the bill.

Among those voting against the full liberalization of the profession -- one of several 'closed shops' that must be fully opened in order for Greece to make good on its commitments to its foreign creditors -- were leading PASOK cadres Haris Kastanidis, Panos Beglitis, Louka Katseli and Vasso Papandreou, who demanded that Health Minister Andreas Loverdos, also of PASOK, make significant changes to the terms of the article.

PASOK chief George Papandreou was absent from the vote as he is attending a conference of the Socialist International, of which he is president, in Costa Rica.

The other seven articles of the bill were voted through on principle, paving the way for new tax laws for self-employed professionals, the liberalization of truckers' and lawyers' sectors, further cutbacks to the holiday bonuses of pensioners aged over 60, the establishment of a fund to oversee the selloff of state assets and the abolition or merger of various state bodies.

The vote comes as Greece is in the process of tough negotiations with private holders of Greek debt for a sizable writeoff of the debt that hinge on the government's ability to push through reforms agreed with the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary as part of an October 2011 loan agreement.

The haircut to the Greek debt and the success of the reform drive will also determine when and whether creditors will release the seventh tranche of aid to Greece.

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