Greeks protest over anti-austerity measures as government try to push through austerity plan

Tuesday 06 November 2012 23.31
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Thousands of protesters gathered in central Athens
Thousands of protesters gathered in central Athens
Public transport brought to a virtual standstill
Public transport brought to a virtual standstill
Strike was called by Greece's two biggest unions
Strike was called by Greece's two biggest unions

Greece's coalition government hopes to overcome its own divisions and defy protesters' fury at parliament's gates tomorrow by pushing through an austerity package needed to secure an injection of aid and avert bankruptcy

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is expected to narrowly win support for budget cuts, tax hikes and labour reforms.

The smallest party in his conservative-liberal coalition will oppose the measures, leaving him with a margin of just a handful of votes.

Union workers plan to descend on the assembly in a second day of a nationwide strike.

The strike has brought most public transport to a halt and shut schools, banks and government offices.

Backed by the leftist opposition, unions say the measures will hit the poor and spare the wealthy.

It is also expected to deepen a five year recession that has wiped out a fifth of the Mediterranean country's output and driven unemployment to 25%.

The wage cuts and tax hikes amounting to €13.5bn by 2016 are demanded as the price for the next tranche of more than €31bn  from an EU/IMF bailout.

The bailout was put on hold in recent months when it emerged Greece had fallen far short of earlier fiscal commitments.

Greeks began a crippling 48-hour strike to protest against a new round of wage and pension cuts that parliament is expected to approve by a narrow margin.

The strike, called by Greece's two biggest labour unions represent half of the four million-strong workforce.

A crowd of about 16,000 protesters - fewer than is usual during Greece's frequent strikes - gathered outside parliament in Athens.

It was the third major walkout in two months.

The protest is against the package of public spending cuts and reforms making it easier to hire and fire workers.

Many Greeks feel the measures will penalise the poor and spare a wealthy elite.

Successions of strikes since Greece fell into crisis in 2009 have so far failed to prevent parliament from approving the international lender-prescribed cuts.

They have inflicted misery on the country and kept the economy in a deep recession.

Parliamentary approval for the package includes cutting pensions by as much as a quarter and scrapping holiday bonuses.

Up to 16 deputies from the small Democratic Left are planning to vote against reforms.

Five socialist law makers are non-committal. Mr Samaras can count on the support of only about 154 lawmakers in the 300-seat parliament.

Any further defections from the Socialist PASOK party could put the government at risk of falling below the 151 votes needed to pass the measures.

This could usher in political chaos that would once again raise fears of a Greek eurozone exit.

Exasperated by years of broken promises to reform, Greece's lenders have warned Athens that it cannot afford to fail again.

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