Greeks clean up after riots against austerity vote

Updated: 2012-02-14 08:01

(China Daily)

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ATHENS, Greece - Firefighters doused smoldering buildings and cleanup crews swept rubble from the streets of central Athens on Monday following a night of rioting during which lawmakers approved harsh new austerity measures demanded by bailout creditors to save the nation from bankruptcy.

At least 45 buildings were burned, including one of the capital's oldest cinemas, while dozens of stores and cafes were smashed and looted.

The stench of tear gas still hung in the air on Monday morning, choking passers-by. More than 120 people were hurt in the rioting which also broke out in other Greek cities. Authorities said 68 police needed medical care after being injured by gasoline bombs, rocks and other objects hurled at them, while at least 70 protesters were also hospitalized.

Police arrested at least 67 people, while in several cases they had to escort fire crews to burning buildings after protesters prevented access.

The rioting began on Sunday afternoon ahead of a landmark vote in parliament on yet more austerity measures. The drastic cuts debated in parliament include axing one in five civil service jobs over the next three years and slashing the minimum wage by more than a fifth.

Lawmakers approved the bill in a 199-74 vote - to the relief of investors who pushed the Athens stock index up 5 percent on Monday.

The vote paves the way for Greece's international creditors to release 130 billion euros ($172 billion) in new rescue loans to prevent the country from a potentially catastrophic default next month - bankruptcy could push Greece out of Europe's euro currency union, drag down other troubled eurozone countries and further roil global markets.

Worsening dilemma

The trouble is, analysts said, much still needs to be settled while the prospect of widespread popular unrest as the economy slows under the weight of more austerity could complicate matters even more.

GFT analyst David Morrison in London said the immediate market reaction was one of relief, with the euro and stocks rising on hopes the worst is over.

The accord, however, also paves "the way to further civil unrest and further strike action, and the Greek government now has to follow through with its promises", Morrision said in a note.

"This is going to be problemmatic, and it is 'odds on' that we'll be hearing that yet more (fiscal) targets have been missed in months to come."

Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos said before the tense vote on Sunday, with thousands of police on guard outside parliament, that "if we collapse, we won't be able to fix anything anymore ... the package is the country's only hope".

The protesters denounced what they described as blackmail by the "troika" of the EU, the IMF and the European Central Bank.