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Greece surveys riot damage after austerity vote
The vote was crucial for the country to secure euro130 billion ($172 billion) in new rescue loans and avoid a potentially catastrophic default next month — bankruptcy could push Greece out of Europe’s euro currency union, drag down other troubled eurozone countries and further roil global markets.
The new bailout deal, which has not yet been finalized, will be combined with a massive bond swap deal to write off half the country’s privately held debt, reducing Greece’s debt load by about euro100 billion.
However, it could take time before the country receives any of the cash. For both deals to materialize, Greece has to persuade deeply skeptical creditors it has the will to implement spending cuts and public sector reforms that will end years of fiscal profligacy and tame gaping budget deficits.
Eurozone finance ministers meet on Wednesday to discuss the issue, after refusing to approve the plan during a meeting last week, saying Athens had to first approve the new austerity measures.
But German Finance Ministry spokeswoman Marianne Kothe said the ministers will not make a final decision on the second aid package Wednesday. She said the bond swap agreement must be finalized first, and the ministers will focus on measures “necessary for the second Greek package.”
Before signing off on the bailout, the eurozone ministers also want Greek political leaders to commit in writing to uphold the austerity plan even after the general election in April. Government spokesman Pantelis Kapsis said the written guarantees are needed by Wednesday.
Although the bill passed the Parliamentary vote, there was strong dissent among the majority Socialists and rival Conservatives who make up Greece’s interim coalition government. The Socialists and Conservatives expelled the 22 and 21 lawmakers respectively, reducing their majority in the 300-member parliament from 236 to 193.
Germany gave the vote result a cautious welcome, with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle describing it as “a first significant step along the right road.”
“However, the actual difficult work with implementing the reforms that have been agreed on is only just starting now,” he said. “That is the decisive precondition for Germany and the other euro partners being able to stand by Greece with a further rescue package.”
The new austerity comes after two years of deep spending cuts and repeated tax hikes that have sent unemployment soaring to more than 20 percent and left the country struggling through a fifth year of recession.
Those measures were taken in return for a first, euro110 billion ($145 billion) package of rescue loans, but despite the cutbacks, Greece repeatedly failed to meet its targets in reducing its debt and deficit and increasing economic competitiveness.
• Geir Moulson and Juergen Baetz in Berlin and Nicholas Paphitis in Athens contributed to this report.
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