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Greece approves controversial austerity bill

The Greek parliament has approved contentious new austerity measures and economic reforms. Outrage over the proposed budget cuts had sparked volatile protests earlier Sunday evening. Parliament narrowly passed the governing coalition's latest budget proposal, which includes more belt-tightening and economic reforms. The 153 lawmakers of the ruling Syriza/Independent Greeks government coalition all voted for the bill. All opposition members in the 300 seat parliament opposed the bill. The vote came on a day that police clashed with angry demonstrators on the streets of Athens - the latest in a series of ongoing protests and crippling general strikes that have beset the country. Many Greeks oppose the austerity measures that amount to $6.2 billion (5.4 billion euros). The law will increase social security and pension contributions and raise taxes for most people. The European Union and international creditors are demanding the tough measures in exchange for an 86 billion-euro ($95 billion) bailout agreed to last July. It is the third such bailout for debt-laden Greece since 2010. IMF wants debt relief But the Mediterranean country has struggled to pay back its loans, prompting the IMF and some European politicians to call for debt relief for Greece. The IMF warns that the mammoth debt payments currently made by Greece are unsustainable over the long term. Growth forecasts published by the European Commission last week estimated that Greece's public debt will rise to 182.8 percent of GDP this year - a record within the eurozone. The parliamentary vote came just hours before an emergency meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Brussels. The ministers from the 19 countries that use the euro - the Eurogroup - are expected to discuss debt relief for Greece , which the IMF is demanding as a condition for a new agreement. Now that the bill has been passed, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras hopes the eurozone finance ministers will move on from approving the reforms to a discussion on debt relief for the country. Tsipras defends the bill The reforms will cut the country's highest pension payouts, merge several pension funds, increase contributions and hike taxes on medium and high incomes. The pension cuts are expected to save 1.8 billion euros, while the tax reforms are to bring in another 1.8 billion. The parliament will decide later on raising indirect taxes to collect the same sum again. Before the vote Tsipras defended the measures, saying they would spare the poorest, and also prevent the pension system collapsing in a few years. "The system requires root and branch reform that previous governments have not dared to undertake," he told lawmakers, adding that the reforms would not affect the poor, something that was the result of "long and hard negotiations with creditors."

The Greek parliament has approved contentious new austerity measures and economic reforms. Outrage over the proposed budget cuts had sparked volatile protests earlier Sunday evening. Parliament narrowly passed the governing coalition’s latest budget proposal, which includes more belt-tightening and economic reforms. The 153 lawmakers of the ruling Syriza/Independent Greeks government coalition all voted for the bill. All opposition members in ... Read More »

Tsipras marks year in office with vow to implement pension reform

Greek premier Alexis Tsipras has marked one year in office by telling supporters that his pension reform bill must go ahead. Rural waverers among his leftists are threatening to erode his coalition's three-seat majority. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told 4,000 supporters in Athens on Sunday that he was determined to make a pitch for pension reform, despite opposition from farmers, the self-employed and small firm proprietor who will be hit by higher contributions. The reform "must go ahead, it's necessary," said Tsipras, who intends to put the bill to parliament early next month. Tspiras' remarks came on the eve of Monday's one-year anniversary of the election victory of his leftist Syriza party, a year marked by dramatic negotiations with Brussels over Greece's future in the eurozone and unprecedented arrivals of refugees, mainly from war-torn Syria, headed for Western Europe. Pension reform sought by bailout lenders The pension bill is designed to save 1.8 billion euros ($1.7 billion) this year, and is crucial for the first review of Greece's EU-led bailout by international lenders, who have also pressed for tax overhauls. Tsipras has vowed, however, not to trim pensions from current levels, saying they had "already been cut by 40 percent" by previous Greek governments under pressure from key lenders such as the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Farmers, who three years ago hailed Tsipras as an opposition politician, are now widely critical because their payments into Greece's insurance scheme could triple. "He lied, he imposed more taxes than all the others put together," Yiorgos Kostakiopoulos, a wheat and cotton grower, told Reuters on Saturday. "He was here with us, told us that he would fight with us for a dignified income for us and our children," said the father of three. Greece's Labor Ministry recently claimed that many farmers were under-declaring their incomes, leaving the state to top up their pensions by up to 90 percent. Already, as part of broader reforms, fuel subsidies have been slashed and taxes on fertilizer and animal feed increased. Political analyst George Sefertzis told AFP that Tsipras was now facing an uncertain negotiating outcome - exactly what happened to his conservative predecessor Antonis Samaras in his final six months of power in 2014. Dramatic year Tspiras's emerged as Syriza's stalwart in January 2015, vowing a debt revolution. Months of dramatic negotiations with Brussels were followed by re-election in September, again as head of a coalition with the nationalist Independent Greeks (ANEL) party, but minus radical Syriza dissenters. In those months, Greece was nearly evicted from the eurozone. The latest surveys show Greece's right-wing opposition resurging in voter support. Tsipras has 153 lawmakers in the 300-seat parliament, but Syriza waverers have threatened to erode that three-seat lead to press the views of small-scale farmers. Europe transformed: Tspiras On Sunday, Tspiras claimed that his government's struggle with Brussels had brought long-lasting change to the EU. "Europe is no longer the same," he said, referring to recent anti-austerity swings in electoral sentiment in Spain, Italy and Portugal. At the height of last year's highly public Greece-EU row, Tspiras argued that debt-swamped Greece would never recover if bailout lenders forced it to just make spending cuts and hike taxes, without investments. In July, Tsipras ousted his outspoken Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and signed another rescue package worth 86 billion euros coupled with spending cuts. On Friday, Standard and Poor's raised its credit rating for Greek debt by one notch - up to B- from CCC+, removing Greece from default vulnerability.

Greek premier Alexis Tsipras has marked one year in office by telling supporters that his pension reform bill must go ahead. Rural waverers among his leftists are threatening to erode his coalition’s three-seat majority. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told 4,000 supporters in Athens on Sunday that he was determined to make a pitch for pension reform, despite opposition from ... Read More »

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