Greek government vows to pass cuts in "fight for existence"

Fri Oct 14, 2011 9:49am EDT
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By Harry Papachristou

ATHENS (Reuters) - Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos pledged on Friday to pass sweeping austerity measures in parliament next week, declaring that Greece was in a "fight for our existence" and defying union opposition and rebels in the ruling Socialist party's own ranks.

After days of protests by groups ranging from taxi drivers to lawyers and cancer patients, much of Greece will be shut by a 48-hour general strike called to coincide with the vote, which could take place in two stages on Wednesday and Thursday.

Both of the main public and private sector union federations have backed the protest, which will close shops, factories and services in one of the biggest protests since the debt crisis began two years ago.

At least two deputies from the ruling PASOK party have threatened to vote against part of the package, which includes a mix of pay cuts, tax hikes and public sector layoffs as well as measures to open up the economy.

The government's slender majority is expected to hold up, with support from smaller opposition parties, however.

Venizelos, a burly political veteran drafted in by Prime Minister George Papandreou in June to head the austerity drive, said there was no alternative to the measures, which the government says are needed to fend off bankruptcy.

"This is a fight for our existence," he told parliament. "We will do anything."

Inspectors from the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank left Athens on Tuesday indicating they would recommend releasing an 8 billion euro tranche of aid that Greece needs to keep paying its bills past mid-November.   Continued...