Greece approves austerity measures despite violence

Lawmakers approve 5-year package of spending cuts, tax rises and state asset sales as clashes rage between protesters, riot police.

Greek Parliament 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Greek Parliament 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
ATHENS - Greece's parliament approved deeply unpopular austerity measures despite worsening violence on Wednesday, in a vote vital towards securing international funds and preventing the euro zone's first sovereign default.

Lawmakers approved a five-year package of spending cuts, tax rises and state asset sales by a comfortable margin of 155 votes to 138 in a roll-call vote, handing a significant victory to embattled Prime Minister George Papandreou.RELATED:Global Agenda: Safe as money in the bankGreeks strike, clash with police over austerity measures"We must avoid the country's collapse at all costs. Now is not the time to step back," the Socialist premier told lawmakers in a final appeal just before the crucial vote.
The bigger than expected margin suggested the government should be able to push through laws implementing detailed budget measures and privatizations on Thursday.Outside parliament, fierce clashes raged between stone-throwing masked youths and riot police, who fired clouds of teargas from behind steel crash barriers to keep the rioters at bay. Syntagma Square resembled a battle zone at times.One group of anarchists armed with sticks and iron bars attacked finance ministry offices just off the square, smashing windows at the entrance and on higher floors. They were driven off by police in more than two hours of cat-and-mouse clashes.With the country on the brink of bankruptcy and social unrest mounting, it remains unclear whether the government can stick to a tight EU/IMF-imposed schedule to implement the harsh measures, even if it wins all this week's parliamentary votes.The full pain of pay and benefit cuts and swingeing tax increases has yet to be felt, and public anger is boiling.Many economists and investors still expect Greece to default in the medium-term. A senior German ruling coalition politician, Free Democratic floor leader Rainer Bruederle, said on Wednesday a debt restructuring was inevitable.