Monday, February 13, 2012

Athens Burns While the Politicians Vote

Athens reeling from latest riots

Firefighters were dousing smoldering buildings and cleanup crews were sweeping rubble on Monday morning following a night of rioting in central Athens after Greek lawmakers approved tough new austerity measures demanded by foreign creditors to prevent default.
At least 45 buildings were burned -- including the neo-classical home to the Attikon cinema dating from 1870 -- while dozens of stores and cafes were smashed and looted.
The stench of tear gas hung in the air on Monday morning, chocking passers-by. More than 120 people were hurt in the rioting which also broke out in cities across the country, including Greece's second-largest city Thessaloniki and the islands of Corfu and Crete.
Police said 150 shops were looted in the capital and 48 buildings set ablaze. Some 100 people -- including 68 police -- were wounded and 130 detained, a police official told AP on Monday.
Lili Bertsou, a 35-year-old teacher who took part at the demonstration, told Kathimerini English Edition, the police had blatantly failed to protect peaceful demonstrators as well as the city.
“Police must finally nab those who cause the mess. They are no more than 100 people,” she said of the groups of self-styled anarchists. She said she had joined the Sunday protests because she was “disgusted” with the fresh austerity measures.
Citizens' Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis has come under fire for failing to contain the violence. PASOK spokesman Panos Beglitis earlier Monday defended the socialist minister against calls to resign from his post.
The rioting began ahead of a tense vote in Parliament on a fresh package of austerity measures requested by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund in exchange for a second bailout loan. Lawmakers approved the agreement in the early hours of Monday despite more than 40 PASOK and New Democracy deputies voting against the terms of the deal.
Out of 300 lawmakers, 278 cast their ballot following several hours of intense debate. Of those, 199 voted “yes” in principle, while 74 voted “no” and five voted “present.” The rest did not vote.
Twenty two PASOK MPs and 21 New Democracy deputies voted against the bill. In both cases, those lawmakers were expelled from their parties.
Former Transport Minister Makis Voridis and Deputy Mercant Marine Minister Adonis Georgiadis went against the line of their party, Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), by voting for the bill. Both were expelled.
It was the first time in Greek parliamentary history that so many lawmakers were ousted from their parties on the same night.
The vote followed a heated debate in Parliament about the terms of the agreement, which include unpopular measures such as a 22 percent cut to the minimum wage and further reductions in pensions.
Prime Minister Lucas Papademos repeated his warning that if Greece did not take up the new loan agreement, it would face a “catastrophic” disorderly default.
“We are looking the Greek people straight in the eye with full knowledge of our historical responsibility,” he said in a televised address. “The social costs that come with these measures are contained in comparison to the economic and social catastrophe that will follow if we don’t adopt them.”
Eurozone finance ministers will convene in Brussels on Wednesday in an extraordinary meeting that was set after they declined in a special session on February 9 to ratify the 130 billion-euro ($172 billion) package. [Combined reports]

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