NEWS

Venizelos confident Socialist MPs will back austerity measures

Greece’s Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos expressed his confidence on Tuesday that Socialist deputies would back an unpopular package of austerity measures demanded by the debt-choked country’s foreign lenders.

“The decision of PASOK has been taken to carry the vote,» Venizelos told lawmakers ahead of a knife-edged vote.

Lawmakers on Wednesday were expected to vote through the package, known as the midterm economic program, which is key to Greece receiving a fifth tranche of bailout money from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

The ruling PASOK party, which has a five-seat majority in the 300-seat Parliament, needs 151 votes to pass the bill.

The vote seemed to be skating on thin ice up until Tuesday evening with three PASOK MPs stating that they would not be backing program. The tide turned on Wednesday morning, following a last-push effort by Prime Minister George Papandreou and Venizelos to rally PASOK troops behind the plan.

Another boost for the midterm program came from the Conservative opposition, as New Democracy MP Elsa Papadimitriou said she would not be toeing the party line and would be voting in favor of the measures.

?It is our duty to shoulder the burden as a democracy,? Venizelos told lawmakers ahead of the vote, which is seen a crucial not only for Greece but for the eurozone as a whole, amid fears that a Greek default could trigger contagion. ?And we shall shoulder it,? he added.

Lawmakers debated the midterm program as protesters in the center of Athens clashed with riot police for a second consecutive day.

Over 10 people were treated in hospital with minor injuries and around 200 were reported to be suffering from breathing problems, as riot police made extensive use of tear gas against a small group of hooded youths who pelted them with firebombs and masonry chipped off of the square?s pavements and steps.

Addressing the incidents going on outside Parliament ahead of the vote, Venizelos acknowledged the anguish of the some 20,000 protesters that have gathered at Syntagma for the past two days, along with several thousand Indignant protesters who have been gathering for over a month.

?The diversity and contradictions of society are out there on the square and on the streets,? he told MPs. ?Between the democratic institutions and those people expressing their anguish and pain,? he added, ?there is another layer of people exercising their own strategy, and each one of us in here needs to make it clear where we stand,? Venizelos said in a tacit criticism of politicians who have allegedly tried to capitalize on mass protests.