Divisive bill passed through Parliament

The toughest set of austerity measures that Greece has ever seen were approved by Parliament yesterday in a vote that caused substantial political fallout in PASOK and New Democracy. The legislation containing the drastic public spending cuts and tax hikes, designed to help Greece find more than 30 billion euros over the next three years, was approved by 172 of the 300 MPs and opposed by 121. Although the bill was voted through in principle (it has yet to be voted on article by article as parliamentary procedure demands), the government did not come through the vote unscathed. Three of its deputies, Yiannis Dimaras, Sofia Sakorafa and Vassilis Economou, simply voted «present» rather than casting their ballot in favor of the bill. Responding with unprecedented speed, Prime Minister George Papandreou expelled the three from the parliamentary group. Former Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis suffered a worse fate as she was expelled from New Democracy, the party her father Constantine Mitsotakis once led and is currently the honorary president of. Bakoyannis piqued current conservative leader Antonis Samaras by voting for the measures when all ND deputies had been instructed to oppose them. Bakoyannis referred to this tactic as «populist and driven by petty party political concerns.» Samaras and Bakoyannis have been at odds since the former won the ND leadership election last November. There has been speculation since then that the ex-foreign minister would form her own party. The government needed just a simple majority to see through the bill, but it received the support of the MPs from the right-wing Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), whose leader Giorgos Karatzaferis said that he could see no other option. The Communist Party (KKE) and the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) voted against the measures. During the debate that preceded the vote, Papandreou underlined that the measures, which are attached to a 110-billion-euro bailout package put together by the International Monetary Fund and the eurozone members, are Greece’s only hope. «Either we vote for this or condemn the country to bankruptcy,» he said. «I have not yet heard an alternative solution.» The prime minister added that he understood people’s anger at politicians and pledged that any cases of corruption would be referred to prosecutors. He also called on former Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to speak up about his time in office, which Papandreou labeled as Greece’s «most wasteful and corrupt» government. In response, Samaras said that PASOK’s handling of the crisis was the only reason that Greece finds itself in such a disastrous position. «You are looking for accomplices in this catastrophe and we are not willing to play that role,» he said. More clashes in Athens as police investigate deaths There were violent clashes again in central Athens last night, as police launched an investigation to track down the rioters who threw the petrol bombs that caused the deaths of three bank employees during protests on Wednesday. Police made extensive use of tear gas in Syntagma Square as thousands of people gathered outside Parliament to protest against the austerity measures that were being passed into law during a vote in the House. When some 10,000 people taking part in a march organized by the Communist Party-affiliated union PAME reached the square, where more than 5,000 other protesters had already congregated, there were violent exchanges between protesters and police. The scenes seen on Wednesday were repeated as police examined CCTV footage of the attack on the Marfin Egnatia Bank branch on Stadiou Street that led to three employees dying from asphyxiation. Sources said that the video shows one person using a sledgehammer to smash a window and three others throwing petrol bombs into the building. All the assailants had their faces covered. However, sources told Kathimerini that police will not be relying too heavily on this footage as it is inconclusive. Instead they will examine eyewitness testimony, including claims that the assailants obtained the firebombs from a bag being carried by a young woman whose face was not concealed. They are also checking other CCTV film from security cameras in the area to check whether the same assailants attacked other buildings. A total of 25 people who were arrested on Wednesday during the protests and also at an empty building in Exarchia that had been taken over by self-styled anarchists faced a prosecutor yesterday.

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