GREEKS PASS BILL AS ATHENS BURNS

 
Julian Harris
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VIOLENT protesters stormed through central Athens last night setting fire to buildings as politicians passed a series of unpopular austerity measures.

Cinemas, Starbucks cafés, banks and other commercial properties burned into the night, after up to 100,000 Greeks took to the streets.

Inside parliament, a mammoth 10-hour debate culminated in support for the package of cuts and reforms, designed to appease international providers of Greece’s next bailout.

Rejecting the measures would have seen Greece leave the Eurozone and fall into a “a vortex of recession”, finance minister Evangelos Venizelos claimed earlier in the day. He urged his colleagues to send a convincing message to this morning’s markets.

And current Prime Minister Lucas Papademos had warned that Greece was “a breath away from Ground Zero”, prior to winning the vote in the early hours of this morning.

Despite heated disagreements, the cuts were passed by 199 votes to 74.

After the vote, two Greek parties supporting the government ousted more than 40 deputies for failing to back the bill. The conservative New Democracy party expelled 21 of its 83 deputies, while the Socialist PASOK party expelled about 20 of its 153 lawmakers.

Outside in Syntagma Square the police fought running battles throughout the day with masked youths hurling homemade petrol bombs.

“People who are making all the trouble are one hundred or two hundred [in number],” Katerina Sokou of Kathimerini told City A.M., from Athens. “They seem to be working in a planned way, and they get in the middle of every protest.”

Violence was even tangible inside the government building walls. “Tear gas has reached the parliament chamber,” said socialist MP Panagiotis Lafazanis, referring to the creeping smell.

The package of proposed measures to reduce Greece’s vast debts and annual deficit must still be accepted by Eurozone finance ministers.

Despite tense scenes in Athens, German leaders showed no sign of reducing pressure on the Greeks.

“The promises from Greece aren’t enough for us any more,” German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

The deal will also still need to be signed off by the troika – the EU, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund. Private holders of Greek debt must also finalise an agreement to accept losses in exchange for new replacement bonds.