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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Greece faces protests as bailout nears end

Demonstrators in Athens spray police with red paint outside parliament as 20,000 march in rallies

A protester argues with Greek police in front of the greek parliament in Athens. AFP/LOUISA GOULIAMAKI
A protester argues with Greek police in front of the greek parliament in Athens. AFP/LOUISA GOULIAMAKI

Greek lawmakers, eyeing the end of eight years of bailout programmes, approved more austerity measures on Monday as strikes and mass protests brought much of Athens to a standstill.

Demonstrators in Athens sprayed police with red paint outside parliament as about 20,000 people marched in anti-government rallies in the capital and Greece’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki.

During the vote on the more than 1,500-page bill in parliament, police engaged in clashes with rock-throwing demonstrators and used pepper spray to disperse them.

No arrests or injuries were reported.

The reforms approved by 154-141 votes include tougher conditions for unions to call industrial action, speedier property foreclosures and cuts in family benefits. They were demanded by lenders for Greece to receive further bailout funds.

Greece formally ends its bailout programme in August but has promised lenders at least two more years of austerity as it seeks more generous repayment terms on its loans from eurozone countries and International Monetary Fund. The country has depended on emergency loans since 2010 after it lost the ability to raise money on international bond markets.

Prime minister Alexis Tsipras said approval of the proposed measures will bring Greece “just one step from the end of the bailout”.

“In the summer, we will ... leave behind a tough, unfair and harmful period,” he said.

Unions strongly oppose the provisions on strikes, which require a higher turnout from branches to be able to decide on industrial action.

Strikes shut down all public transport in the Greek capital on Monday, while state-run schools and public hospitals also faced disruptions as teachers and doctors participated in work stoppages. Dozens of flights were either rescheduled or cancelled due to a three-hour walk-out by air traffic controllers.

Several hundred people marched peacefully to parliament in the morning, in a demonstration organised by civil servant unions.

The demonstrations came amid signs of growing investor confidence in Greece following years of belt-tightening that has put the annual budget in better shape. While Greece’s borrowing rates in the markets have fallen to pre-crisis levels, the country is still burdened with sky-high debts worth around 180 per cent of annual GDP while poverty levels are among the highest in the European Union.

The ongoing hardship has seen the Mr Tsipras’ left-wing government fall behind the rival conservatives in opinion polls.

Opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis accused Mr Tsipras of taking credit for imposing measures that he was elected for opposing.

Mr Mitsotakis told parliament: “[His government] has turned lying into a profession and cynicism into an art.”

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