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Greeks decry market reforms needed to unlock EU-IMF aid

People waiting outside a pharmacy on duty in the area of Pangrati, in Athens, Friday. The pharmacists’ strike in Athens will continue until March 31. The omnibus bill includes the extension of the opening hours of pharmacies and also projects that all pharmacies can operate during evening hours, from Monday to Friday, as well as Saturday. The selection and maintenance of any extended hours are being decided by each licensed pharmacist.

Greek industry associations criticised as “destructive” reforms that the country must approve by Sunday to clinch bailout loans, although the government expects the final package of austerity measures to pass.

Associations of the country’s pharmacists, bakers, cattle breeders and booksellers, the sectors that will be most affected by the liberalisation reforms, warned Friday that the main beneficiaries would be foreign-based conglomerates.

“We are uniting our forces against policies that are destroying us,” Panagiotis Peveretos, head of the association of Greek cattle breeders, told a news conference.

Greek milk producers say a reform that will allow longer shelf-life for milk will result in lower-quality milk from Romania and Bulgaria flooding the market and imperil a sector employing 300,000 people.

As many as eight ruling coalition lawmakers had threatened to oppose the bill in parliament, where the government has a slim majority, but the legislation is expected to pass after a number of compromises were struck.

In addition, pharmacists have launched an indefinite strike over another part of the bill that foresees longer operating hours and cuts their profit margin from 2017.

Booksellers, who stand to lose state-guaranteed limits on discounts, warned similar measures wiped out small book stores in Britain and the United States.

“There will be unfair competition from supermarket and online chains based in tax-free havens,” said publisher Thanos Psychogios.

The legislation, which incorporates international recommendations to improve competitiveness and also facilitates a long-delayed bank recapitalization, will unlock for Greece some 8.5 billion euros ($11.7 billion) in eurozone loans.

Tough talks on the issue with Greeces EU-IMF creditors took seven months.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Thursday said government lawmakers would vote in favour of the necessary measures on Sunday.

“(Our lawmakers) are responsible and have proven this,” Samaras said in a televised statement.

He added that the bill constituted the final bout of austerity measures adopted by Greece since 2010, when it was forced to apply for the EU-IMF bailout to stave off bankruptcy.

“There will be no new austerity measures. This is over,” Samaras said.

“Our (return) to (financial) markets comes next, followed by discussion on the debt,” he said.

Greece has announced plans to return to borrowing on financial markets in the second half of the year with a sale of five-year bonds to raise 1.5-2.0 billion euros.

Samaras’ government then hopes to reach an agreement with its creditors that will ease the repayment of its huge public debt. [AFP]

ekathimerini.com , Friday March 28, 2014 (16:08)  
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