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Greece backs key austerity package

Greece's lawmakers have approved a key austerity Bill needed to avert default next month, despite a second day of rioting on the streets of Athens that left dozens of police and protesters injured.

The passage of the Bill was a decisive step for the country to get the next batch of bailout loans from international creditors due from last year's financial rescue. Another Bill has to be passed on Thursday for the government to secure the money.

The Bill to cut spending and raise taxes by 28 billion euro (£25 billion) over five years, and raise 50 billion euro (£43.5 billion) in privatisations over the same period of time, has provoked widespread outrage, coming after a year of deep cuts that have seen public sector salaries and pensions cut and unemployment rise to above 16%.

While deputies voted, stun grenades echoed across the square outside the parliament building and acrid clouds of tear gas hung in the streets. The violence continued sporadically after the vote and smoke was billowing from beneath the Finance Ministry.

Authorities and emergency services said 26 police and 15 protesters were injured and transferred to hospitals, while 29 people were detained, and nine arrested.

The European Union and International Monetary Fund have demanded both Bills pass before they release a 12 billion euro (£10.4 billion) instalment of the country's 110 billion euro (£96 billion) bailout fund. Without it, Greece was facing defaulting on its debts by the middle of next month, potentially triggering a banking crisis, particularly in Europe, and turmoil in global markets.

Even with the instalment, Greece is still in financial trouble and has been in talks with its international creditors for a second bailout, which Prime Minister George Papandreou has said will be roughly the same size as the first.

EU leaders hailed the vote as an act of "national responsibility" and urged Greek lawmakers to follow up with another positive vote.

In a joint statement, the heads of the EU commission and council, Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy, said Greece had taken "a vital step back - from the very grave scenario of default" and urged a second positive vote on Thursday to allow the next batch of money to be disbursed.

The unpopular package of spending cuts and tax hikes passed by 155 votes to 138, with five opposition deputies voted "present" - a ballot which backs neither side.

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From Belfast Telegraph