NEWS

Road haulage bill approved amid protests

Parliament yesterday approved controversial legislation liberalizing the country’s road haulage sector as hundreds of truck drivers continued their protests against the reforms, causing traffic chaos on national highways and clashing with police in the city center. Truckers, many of whom had spent Tuesday night in a sit-down vigil outside Parliament, watching the reform bill debate on a large television screen brought along for the purpose, continued their protest yesterday. There were minor scuffles with police as some of the demonstrators threw stones at the Parliament building while others pushed their way through to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Police fired tear gas to disperse the small but boisterous crowd, as protesters chanted, «Thieves, thieves.» In the early afternoon, lawmakers voted the bill into law in principle, with 83 MPs of Greece’s 100-seat summer parliament casting ballots in favor, 16 against and one abstaining. A vote later in the afternoon on a controversial article of the bill foreseeing the devaluation of the truck drivers’ operating licenses also went through but was much tighter, with 53 votes for and 46 against. Unionists representing the truck drivers said they would continue a nine-day work stoppage that has caused serious traffic disruption on major highways on the outskirts of Athens and Thessaloniki. «We will keep going,» Giorgos Tzortzatos, the president of the truck drivers’ union said after the vote. «We have nothing more to lose,» he said before joining other unionists to decide on their course of action. Truckers claim the new law, which aims to drastically reduce freight costs by issuing new cheaper operating licenses, is unfair to existing operators, many of whom have paid up to 300,000 euros for their licenses. Transport Minister Dimitris Reppas yesterday insisted the reform is already overdue as other European countries liberalized their road haulage sectors decades ago. «The attacks and insults will not cloud our judgment,» he told lawmakers, referring to protesters throwing stones outside Parliament.