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Greek Parliament Approves Austerity Package

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Greek Parliament Approves Austerity Package


Greek Parliament Approves Austerity Package

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


I'm Robert Siegel.

And we begin this hour with the news out of Greece, which is causing both fury and relief; fury at home after the Greek Parliament voted in favor of a highly unpopular package of austerity measures. They include a solidarity levy on income, a hike in property taxes, plus big cuts in education, health and defense spending.

BLOCK: The relief was abroad among European leaders and financial markets. Passage of the measures had been a key condition for release of the next installment of a $155 billion bailout. Without it, Greece's economy likely would have collapsed.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli begins our coverage in Athens.

(Soundbite of demonstration)

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Protesters start gathering outside parliament at midmorning. Addressing the lawmakers inside, they chant: You've sold our islands, you've sold our ports, it's time you sold your mothers and get out of here.

For the second day in a row, the public sector was shut down in a general strike - the longest walkout since democracy returned to Greece in 1974 after the seven-year military dictatorship.

Unidentified Group: (Foreign language spoken)

POGGIOLI: Greece is a country long polarized between left and right. Here, members of opposing ideologies speak heatedly. The right-wingers accuse the leftists of not being sufficiently patriotic. But the austerity measures have had an unexpected effect. Longtime political rivals are actually speaking to each other, surprised that they share so much outrage at the government, international lenders and foreign banks that, many Greeks say, have taken over control of their destiny.

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

POGGIOLI: The demonstration begins peacefully but soon turns violent, as police clash with groups of provocateurs and unleashed canisters of powerful teargas on the crowds.

(Soundbite of explosions)

POGGIOLI: Syntagma Square is suddenly enveloped in clouds of putrid white smoke. Men and women, many wearing surgeon's masks to try to protect themselves against the stinging gas, run off, seeking shelter where they can.

Some 300 yards from Syntagma, the cafe Lycabettus offers refuge. The TV is on with split-screen live coverage of the clashes in the square and the parliamentary debate.

Prime Minister George Papandreou is addressing the chamber, defending his recipe of yet more punishing wage and pension cuts, tax hikes and privatization of more than $70 billion in state assets.

Here's a simultaneous translation.

Prime Minister GEORGE PAPANDREOU (Greece): (Through Translator) There is no plan B for Greece. At least I can say that there is no plan B in favor of Greece. And if we collapse like the others our creditors will just think about themselves, not about ourselves. There are two options - the tough path of change and the easy way of disaster. With your vote, you can give Greece a historical opportunity, a historical chance.

POGGIOLI: Lawmakers of the ruling Socialist Party applaud, but here in the cafe, the prime minister has not convinced somber-looking photographer Sotiris Papaemmanouil.

Mr. SOTIRIS PAPAEMMANOUIL (Photographer): I think we have to stop taking money from Europe. We have to face the new situation. We are closing our stores. We are losing our jobs, and there is no future. No future.

POGGIOLI: A woman rushes into the cafe, tears streaming down her face from the teargas. Calliope Iris is also a victim of the economic crisis. She's a dress designer who had to shut down her studio only two years after she opened it.

She says the government thinks it's going to begin implementing the new austerity measures in a few weeks.

Ms. CALLIOPE IRIS (Dress Designer): But the people here, they are all are saying this is not going to happen. It's not going to be implemented. We are going to go through major civil disobedience.

POGGIOLI: At the end the day, the streets of Athens are in shambles. Garbage bags had been set on fire, and pavements are covered with rocks and shards of masonry - a warning to the government of just how hard it will be to regain the trust of an increasingly exasperated population.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Athens.

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