Video: Chaos reigns as Greeks vote to avoid 'disaster'
Published 13/02/2012 | 05:00
The Greek parliament last night approved a deeply unpopular austerity bill to secure a second EU/IMF bailout and avoid national bankruptcy, as buildings burned across central Athens and violence spread around the country.
Cinemas, cafes, shops and banks were set ablaze in as black-masked protesters fought riot police outside parliament.
State television reported the violence spread to Corfu and Crete, the northern city of Thessaloniki and towns in central Greece. Shops were looted in the capital where police said 34 buildings were ablaze.
Prime Minister Lucas Papademos denounced the worst breakdown of order since 2008 when violence gripped Greece for weeks after police shot a 15-year-old schoolboy.
"Vandalism, violence and destruction have no place in a democratic country and won't be tolerated," he told parliament as it prepared to vote on the new €130bn bailout.
Mr Papademos told lawmakers shortly before they voted that they would be gravely mistaken if they rejected the package that demands deep pay, pension and job cuts, as this would threaten Greece's place in the European mainstream. "It would be a huge historical injustice if the country from which European culture sprang ... reached bankruptcy and was led, due to one more mistake, to national isolation and national despair," he said.
The chaos outside parliament showed how tough it will be to implement the measures as violence erupted on the streets and buildings were set alight.
Terrified Greeks and tourists fled the rock-strewn streets and the clouds of stinging gas, cramming into hotel lobbies for shelter as lines of riot police struggled to contain the mayhem. Television reported that trouble had also broken out in Heraklion, capital of Crete, as well as the towns of Volos and Agrinio in central Greece.
"We are facing destruction. Our country, our home, has become ripe for burning, the centre of Athens is in flames," conservative lawmaker Costis Hatzidakis told parliament.
Before the vote, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos told parliament that the alternative to the international bailout -- bankruptcy and a departure from the eurozone -- would be far worse for Greeks.
"The choice is not between sacrifice and no sacrifices at all, but between sacrifices and unimaginably harsher ones," he said. Greece needs the international funds before March 20 to meet debt repayments of €14.5bn, or suffer a chaotic default which could shake the entire eurozone.
The EU and IMF say they have had enough of broken promises and that the funds will be released only with the clear commitment of Greek political leaders that they will implement the reforms.
Eurozone paymaster Germany ratcheted up the pressure yesterday. "The promises from Greece aren't enough for us any more," German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in an interview.
"Greece needs to do its own homework to become competitive, whether that happens in conjunction with a new rescue programme or by another route that we actually don't want to take," he said.
When asked if that other route meant Greece quitting the eurozone, Mr Schaeuble said: "That is all in the hands of the Greeks themselves."