Video: Greeks furious over austerity bill

  1. Closed captioning of: Greeks furious over austerity bill

    >>> overseas, greece is cleaning up from a night of violence. some awful fires and fights afsh the greek parliament passed an austerity bill a lot of greeks are furious about. stephanie gosk is in athens for us tonight. stephanie , good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening, brian. the greek parliament did exactly what the euro zone wanted them to do. they passed these budget cuts so they could get a much-needed $170 billion rescue package what they didn't do was convince the tens of thousands of people that hit the streets that this was in their best interest. riot police last night faced off against an angry mob on the steps of the parliament. dodging rocks and fire bombs. responding with billy clubs and canister after canister of tear gas . as parliament approved this slashing of government jobs and dramatic reduction in minimum wage, athens burned. stores were trashed and looted. flames engulfed dozens of building, including an historic cinema, which today was still smoldering. the cleanup began early, but there will be lasting scars.

    >> the answer isn't to break everything here. is to fight against the government without burning and destroying the city.

    >> reporter: it's hard to imagine how destroying small businesses like this one could be a solution to greece 's economic problems.

    >> something like 2,000 euros, mack books and everything is ruined there right now.

    >> reporter: it's becoming a vicious cycle. this country needs help from the euro zone , but the only way it gets that help is with budget cuts. the cuts lead to this. the government has failed to explain the crisis to the public. this member of parliament told us --

    >> they're not completely aware if they're suffering because of the crisis or suffering because of the medicine, which is the measures of austerity that we've been passing.

    >> reporter: and there is likely more economic pain to come.

    >> it doesn't help greece that just the kind of more competitive economy that it needs.

    >> reporter: the fear in greece and all over europe is that the fires will keep burning. the rescue package is not a done deal. european finance ministers are meeting in brussels on wednesday. some want to ask greek officials directly how they plan to enact some of these reforms. brian?

    >> stephanie gosk in athens tonight. scary weekend there over the news services
updated 2/13/2012 7:58:44 AM ET 2012-02-13T12:58:44

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 restored cinemas, while dozens of stores and cafes were smashed and looted.

PhotoBlog: The morning after the night before — Greeks wake up to an austere future

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. 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.

'Not the way out'
Greeks were shocked to discover Monday that the burnt structures included the neo-classical home to the Attikon cinema dating from 1870.

"We are all very angry with these measures but this is not the way out," said Dimitris Hatzichristos, 30, a public sector worker surveying the debris.

Video: Greeks protest austerity moves (on this page)

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

Reuters reported that violence also erupted in Greece's second-largest city Thessaloniki and on the islands of Corfu and Crete.

The rioting began Sunday afternoon ahead of a historic vote in Parliament on yet more austerity measures. 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.

Image: Firefighters spray water on a damaged building after it burned in central Athens
Angelos Tzortzinis  /  AFP - Getty Images
Firefighters spray water on a damaged building in central Athens on Monday.

There was nevertheless strong dissent among the majority Socialists and rival Conservatives, who along with a small right-wing party make up Greece's interim coalition government. The parties disciplined the dissenters in their ranks, with the Socialists and Conservatives expelling 22 and 21 lawmakers respectively, reducing their majority in the 300-member parliament from 236 to 193.

"We are facing destruction. Our country, our home, has become ripe for burning, the center of Athens is in flames," conservative lawmaker Costis Hatzidakis told parliament. "We cannot allow populism to burn our country down."

"Night of terror inside and outside the parliament," conservative daily Eleftheros Typos wrote on its front page.

Sunday's clashes erupted after more than 100,000 protesters marched to the parliament to rally against the drastic cuts, which will ax one in five civil service jobs and slash the minimum wage by more than a fifth.

The vote paves the way for Greece's international creditors to release €130 billion ($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.

Skeptical creditors
The deal, which has not yet been finalized, will be combined with a massive bond swap deal to write off half the country's privately held debt, reducing Greece's debt load by about €100 billion.

But for both deals to materialize, Greece has to persuade its deeply skeptical creditors that it has the will to implement spending cuts and public sector reforms that will end years of fiscal profligacy and tame gaping budget deficits.

Image: Protests in Athens, Greece
Thanassis Stavrakis  /  AP
A riot police officers tries to extinguish flames from a firebomb thrown by a protester outside the Greek parliament in Athens on Sunday.

Eurozone finance ministers are to meet on Wednesday to approve the plan, after refusing to do so during a meeting last week, saying Athens had to first approve the new austerity measures.

Before signing off on the bailout, the eurozone ministers will still want Greek political leaders to commit in writing to uphold the austerity plan even after the general election in April.

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos insisted the country's economic survival hinged on the passage of the new measures.

"The question is not whether some salaries and pensions will be curtailed, but whether we will be able to pay even these reduced wages and pensions," he said in parliament before the vote. "When you have to choose between bad and worse, you will pick what is bad to avoid what is worse."

The further cuts come after two years of deep spending cuts and repeated tax hikes that have sent unemployment soaring to more than 20 percent and left the country struggling through a fifth year of recession.

Those measures were taken in return for a first, €110 billion ($145 billion) package of rescue loans from other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund, but despite the cutbacks, Greece repeatedly failed to meet its fiscal targets in reducing its debt and deficit and increasing economic competitiveness.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


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