Greece to vote on austerity, protests intensify
By Michael Winfrey and Karolina Tagaris
ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece's coalition government hopes to overcome its own divisions and defy protesters' fury at parliament's gates on Wednesday to push through an austerity package needed to secure an injection of aid and avert bankruptcy.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is expected to narrowly win support for the cocktail of budget cuts, tax hikes and labor reforms. The smallest party in his conservative-liberal coalition will oppose the measures, leaving him with a margin of just a handful of votes.
Tens of thousands of union workers plan to descend on the assembly in a second day of a nationwide strike that has brought most public transport to a halt and shut schools, banks and government offices.
Backed by the leftist opposition, unions say the measures will hit the poor and spare the wealthy, while also deepening a five year recession that has wiped out a fifth of the Mediterranean country's output and driven unemployment to 25 percent.
"If lawmakers vote in favor of the measures... they will have committed the biggest ever political and social crime against the country and the people," said Nikos Kioutsoukis, secretary general of the private umbrella union GSEE.
"We won't let them destroy the country."
The wage cuts and tax hikes amounting to 13.5 billion euros by 2016 are demanded as the price for the next tranche of more than 31 billion euros ($39.63 billion) from a European Union/International Monetary Fund bailout.
The bailout was put on hold in recent months when it emerged Greece had fallen far short of earlier fiscal commitments. Continued...