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August 15, 2015

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Greece votes in favor of 3-year bailout plan

GREEK lawmakers yesterday approved their country’s draft third bailout after a nearly 24-hour marathon parliamentary procedure culminated in a vote that saw the government coalition suffer significant dissent.

The rescue package would give Greece about 85 billion euros (US$93 billion) in loans over three years in exchange for harsh spending cuts and tax hikes.

Unable to borrow on the international markets, another bailout is all that stands between Greece and a disorderly default on its debts that could see it forced out of Europe’s joint currency.

The bill passed thanks to support from opposition parties, with 222 votes in favor, 64 against, 11 abstentions and three absent in the 300-member parliament.

Although approved by a comfortable majority, the result was a blow to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who saw more than 40 of his 149 radical left Syriza party lawmakers vote against him. He has come under intense criticism from party hardliners for capitulating to the creditors’ demands for budget cuts — measures he promised to oppose when he was elected in January.

The bill includes reforms increasing personal, company and shipping taxes, reducing pensions, abolishing tax breaks for some groups considered vulnerable and implementing deep spending cuts.

The mounting discord within Syriza is threatening to split the party and could lead to early elections. The stock market in Athens slid on the news and was down 2.3 percent in midday trading.

State television said Tsipras was expected to call a vote of confidence in his government.

“Truly today we had a large majority that voted for the agreement, but we also had a number of lawmakers who chose a different course,” said government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili.

“Therefore, as the prime minister said during his speech, everything that is necessary will be done.”

She refused to give details on a potential early election, but said any action would be after Thursday, when Greece has to make a large debt repayment to the European Central Bank.

Culture Minister Nikos Xydakis said on TV that an early poll was likely.

“The agreement has cost the government its majority ... As things have turned out, the clearest solution would be elections,” he said.

The deal needs approval from other countries before any funds can be disbursed. Some nations, such as Finland, have already given their approval.

Syriza dissenters angrily challenged the government during the all-night parliamentary session.

“I feel ashamed for you. We no longer have a democracy ... but a eurozone dictatorship,” ex-energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis said before the vote.

The terms of the bailout were agreed with negotiators from the European Central Bank, European Commission and International Monetary Fund.


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