Greek govt survives vote as protesters chant insults

ATHENS, (Reuters) – Greece’s embattled government  survived a confidence vote on Wednesday that was crucial to  avoiding a sovereign default, as thousands of protesters chanted  insults outside parliament.

The assembly voted confidence in the government, reshuffled  by Prime Minister George Papandreou to stiffen resolve behind a  painful new austerity programme, by 155 votes to 143 with two  abstentions.

All Papandreou’s Socialist Party deputies voted solidly with  the government. “If we are afraid, if we throw away this opportunity, then  history will judge us very harshly,” Papandreou said in a final  appeal for support before the vote.

Protesters besieged the parliament, chanting slogans against  the politicians, shining hundreds of green laser lights at the  building and into the eyes of riot police outside and pushing  their hands forward in a traditional insult. They held up a mock  gallows with several nooses.

The successful vote, closely watched outside Greece, had an  immediate impact with the euro making gains, although traders  said continuing concerns about implementation of the measures  contained the rise.

European Commission President Manuel Barroso expressed  immediate relief. “Tonight’s vote in the Greek Parliament  removes an element of uncertainty from an already very difficult  situation,” he said, adding that Papandreou could now  concentrate on implementing the reforms.

“Although this clearly is not going to be a long-term fix,  investors see this as a chance that the can will be kicked  further down the road and so I think we are going to see  tomorrow a world-wide push to risk assets,” said David Dietze,  Chief Investment strategist at Point View Financial Services.

Papandreou’s government must rapidly pass two more tests —  enacting the austerity plan and the laws needed to implement it  — to win a new bailout to avert the euro zone’s first sovereign  default and possible global economic disaster.

ULTIMATUM

The vote follows a European ultimatum requiring the  debt-choked Mediterranean state implement a new five-year  package of deeply unpopular reforms in two weeks or miss out on  a 12-billion euro aid tranche and plunge into bankruptcy.

Barroso had piled on pressure before the vote, saying that  Greece faced a “moment of truth” and needed to show it was  genuinely committed to the reforms.

“No-one can be helped against their will,” he said.

Acting IMF chief John Lipsky sent a similar message, saying  international lenders were willing to help peripheral euro zone  economies as long as they tried to carry out reforms.

He said the Greek fiscal system was broken but could be  fixed with the right political will.

As parliament debated the confidence motion, demonstrators  stepped up their protests in the square, where hundreds have  camped for weeks to show their opposition to more austerity,  which has deepened the worst recession for 37 years. “I believe we should go bankrupt and get it over with. These  measures are slowly killing us,” said 22-year-old student Efi  Koloverou. “We want competent people to take over.”

Glykeria Madaraki, a 39-year-old unemployed woman, said:  “God help us. There is no way these people are getting us out of  the crisis. I feel insecure and I see my country being sold off.  They didn’t ask what we think about all this. I want elections.”

Inside parliament the opposition poured similar disdain on  the government. “This is not a programme to salvage the economy,  it’s a programme for pillage before bankruptcy,” said Alexis  Tsipras, head of the small opposition Left Coalition.

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