THE JEENYUS CORNER
By Michael Winfrey and Karolina Tagaris
ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece’s coalition government hopes to overcome its own divisions and defy protesters’ fury at parliament’s gates on Wednesday to push 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 the budget cuts, tax hikes and labor reforms. The smallest party in his conservative-liberal coalition oppose the measures, leaving him with a margin of just a handful of votes.
Tens of thousands of union workers plan to descend on the assembly in a second day of a nationwide strike that has brought most public transport to a halt, shut schools, banks and government offices, and caused garbage to pile up on streets.
Backed by the leftist opposition, unions say the measures will hit the poor and spare the wealthy, while deepening a five year recession that has wiped out a fifth of the Mediterranean country’s output and driven unemployment to 25 percent.
“If lawmakers vote in favor of the measures… they will have committed the biggest ever political and social crime against the country and the people,” said Nikos Kioutsoukis, secretary general of the private umbrella union GSEE.
“We won’t let them destroy the country.”
The wage cuts and tax hikes amounting to 13.5 billion euros by 2016 will unlock a loan tranche of more than 31 billion euros ($39.63 billion) from a European Union/International Monetary Fund bailout.
The bailout was put on hold in recent months when it emerged Greece had fallen far short of earlier fiscal commitments.
The vote is the biggest test for Samaras’s government since it came to power in June. A ‘yes’ vote will give Athens cash to shore up its ailing banks and pay off debt coming due late this month. A ‘no’ could rend apart the fragile coalition.
Jean Claude Junker, chairman of the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers, said Greece had no choice but to continue painful cuts in its bloated public sector.
“Our Greek friends have no options or choice,” he told the Foreign Correspondents’ Association in Singapore.
“They have to do it. And my impression is that the reforms which are (being) undertaken in Greece are increasingly better understood by the Greek citizens.”
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