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Fires burn in Athens as parliament approves harsh economic bill
Scores of bat-wielding youths smashed property at will for several hours, leaving broken traffic lights hanging from poles, and chairs and tables from looted coffee shops dumped on the street. Ambulances weaved through narrow backstreets to ferry the injured to hospital, dodging burning trash bins and the running battles between rioters and police.
“I’ve had it! I can’t take it any more. There’s no point in living in this country any more,” said a distraught shop owner walking through his smashed and looted optician store.
Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis said rioters tried to storm the City Hall building, but were repelled. “Once again, the city is being used as a lever to try to destabilize the country,” he said.
In parliament, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said the new austerity measures were vital to the country’s very economic survival.
“The question is not whether some salaries and pensions will be curtailed, but whether we will be able to pay even these reduced wages and pensions,” he told lawmakers before the vote. “When you have to choose between bad and worse, you will pick what is bad to avoid what is worse.”
The new cutbacks, which follow two years of harsh income losses and tax hikes amid a deep recession and record high unemployment have been demanded by Greece’s bailout creditors in return for a new batch of vital rescue loans.
Greece’s eurozone partners, meanwhile, kept up the pressure for real reform.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble was quoted as telling the Welt am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday that Greece “cannot be a bottomless pit.”
Highlighting previous pledges he said weren’t kept, Schaeuble said “that is why Greece’s promises aren’t enough for us any more.”
Asked whether Greece has a long-term future in the eurozone, Germany’s Vice Chancellor Philip Roesler said “that is now in the hands of the Greeks alone.”
“It is not enough just to give financial aid — they must tackle the second cause of the crisis, the lack of economic competitiveness,” he told said ARD television. “For that, they need … massive structural reforms. Otherwise Greece will not get out of the crisis.”
Introducing the legislation Sunday, Socialist lawmaker Sofia Yiannaka said the intense pressure from Greece’s EU partners to pass the measures was the result of delays in implementing already agreed reforms.
“The delays have our imprint. We should not blame foreigners for them,” she said. “We have finally found out that you have to pay back what you have borrowed.”
Demetris Nellas in Athens and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.
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