Greek lawmakers bicker on bailout hours before euro zone verdict

Thu Aug 13, 2015 9:55pm EDT
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By Lefteris Papadimas and Michele Kambas

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek lawmakers bickered through the night over a new bailout deal to keep the country afloat, only hours before euro zone finance ministers are due to decide on Friday whether to approve the vital aid for Athens.

With the ruling Syriza party apparently heading for a split over the 85 billion euro ($95 billion) program, parliament finally began debating whether to accept the package which demands yet more austerity and economic reform at 3:45 a.m. (0045 GMT), with no vote likely until well after daybreak.

Parliament is expected to approve the agreement with Greece's euro zone and International Monetary Fund creditors by a comfortable margin when it finally votes, since opposition parties have promised to back Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to ensure that Greece does not return to financial chaos.

Tempers flared with the conservative opposition accusing Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos of making "provocative" comments and warning him not to take its support for the deal for granted. "If you want to provoke us - and for us to vote for it - well, you can't have it both ways," New Democracy leader Vangelis Meimarakis said.

Tsipras faces a rebellion within Syriza, with leftist members refusing to accept his promises of tax rises and spending cuts in exchange for fresh loans under Greece's third financial rescue program in five years.

Parliamentary speaker Zoe Konstantopoulou, one of the Syriza hardliners, snubbed a request from Tsipras to speed up handling of the bailout bill so that it can be voted on well before the finance ministers meet in Brussels on Friday.

Instead, she raised a long series of procedural questions and objections which held up proceedings until lawmakers finally voted to conclude the debate at 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) on Friday, after which the vote will be taken.

Once the bill is passed, the euro zone ministers still have to approve the deal for aid to be disbursed before Athens must make a 3.2 billion euro debt payment to the European Central Bank on Aug. 20.   Continued...

Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos delivers his speech during a night parliamentary session in Athens, Greece, early August 14, 2015.  REUTERS/Christian Hartmann