Greek parliament approves bailout reforms despite protests

 
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ATHENS Jan 16 (TNS): Greece’s parliament passed a swathe of reforms demanded by international lenders in exchange for fresh bailout funds, a success for the government but a blow to thousands of people protesting outside.

The bill introduces a new electronic process for foreclosures on overdue loans and arrears to the state, opens up closed professions, restructures family benefits and makes it harder to call a strike.

About 20,000 people rallied outside parliament during the vote. Bus, subway and city rail services were disrupted and some flights were grounded as workers went on strike to protest against the bill.

“Parliament shouldn’t approve these measures. The government must take them back. They have exhausted us,” said 55-year-old Georgia Koutsoukou, one of the demonstrators.

As the vote was in progress, police fired teargas to disperse protesters who hurled stones and petrol bombs at them. The unrest was brief.

The vote means the government has succeeded in securing the reforms before a Jan. 22 meeting of euro zone finance ministers, who are expected to assess if Greece has done enough to conclude the third review of its current, 86 billion-euro ($106 billion), programme that expires in August.

Concluding the review will help unlock about 6.5 billion euros in bailout loans.