More Austerity Cuts In Store For Greeks

The Greek Parliament has approved a sweeping set of austerity measures that were aimed at keeping the country in the eurozone. Members voted on $17 billion in cuts to salaries, pensions, public sector jobs and health care spending.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And during the presidential campaign, Greece and its crushing debt often came up as a cautionary tale, as in don't let America become another Greece.

That country has now approved yet another round of deep budget cuts to avoid bankruptcy, which in turn prompted another round of protests, as Joanna Kakissis reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: It was dark and rainy when more than 80,000 Greeks gathered in central Athens to protest the new austerity measures. Riot police with shields and batons flanked the parliament building and lined the streets.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

KAKISSIS: It was largely a peaceful protest until a few gangs of vigilantes threw Molotov cocktails at the police, who responded with volleys of tear gas and a water cannon. That sent most of the crowd home.

Stavros Flegas, who works for the metro, was one of the last to leave. His salary has been cut by a third and he worries about losing his job. He says austerity is raising unemployment to Great Depression levels. He blames the country's lenders, which include the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Like other Greeks, he calls them the troika.

STAVROS FLEGAS: I don't believe the people of the troika they understand our culture, what the country needs. And for so many years they knew what were the problems that we have. And one day they decide to cut the salaries, cut all the community provided to us.

KAKISSIS: Protesters outside complained that the politically connected haven't had their salaries cut. And indeed inside the chambers, well-paid and well-connected parliamentary staffers threatened to walk out and disrupt the budget vote when it was suggested that their salaries be cut.

Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the leftist Syriza Party, defended the staff. He opposes nearly all austerity cuts, an attitude that has made him a pariah among European leaders. He says austerity is a failure.

ALEXIS TSIPRAS: (Through translator) I wouldn't be surprised if you were back again in a few months, asking for more cuts. Because these measures are going to bring a deeper recession and we'll have bigger debts.

KAKISSIS: And yes, the government expects the recession to go into a sixth year and for debt to rise. But Prime Minister Antonis Samaras told lawmakers that Greece is going through a painful revolution that will eventually transform it into a productive economy.

ANTONIS SAMARAS: (Through translator) Some want to take Greece to a place where no one wants to go, outside the eurozone, isolated by the international community, and addicted to an outdated socialist model. We must get rid of bureaucracy and this culture of dependency.

KAKISSIS: Samaras says these will be the final austerity measures. And he hopes his hard line will end drachmaphobia. That's the fear of Greece exiting the eurozone and reverting to its previous currency, the drachma.

For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens

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