Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Greece faces crucial finance week

A protest in front of the Greek Parliament in Athens (AP)

Greek unions have stepped up their opposition to government cuts in what will be a decisive week for the future of the country and the wider 17-nation euro.

Greece faces a key vote on new austerity measures on Thursday, while other eurozone countries are rushing to find a comprehensive solution to the debt crisis by the end of the week.

Both the vote and the plan are required to avoid a loss of confidence in global markets that some fear would plunge the world economy back into recession.

Protesting civil servants continued occupations of the finance and labour ministry buildings. Tax collectors and customs officers walked out, while strikes also forced ferries to the Greek islands to remain idle and rotting trash on Athens' streets to pile up for a 16th day.

A 48-hour general strike to be held on Wednesday and Thursday is set to ground flights for two days and cripple public and many private services - with bakers joining the growing list of protest participants.

The government is facing mounting party dissent over a vote in parliament Thursday to pass a new punishing round of tax rises and pay cuts agreed in exchange for bailout loans.

With a majority of just four seats in parliament, the government is facing the prospect of an embarrassing defeat over a central part of the new legislation - its plans to strip Greek workers of decades-old labour rights.

The dissent and fierce protests by Socialist-led unions are piling pressure on Prime Minister George Papandreou as Greece awaits formal approval this week of its next rescue payout from the IMF and eurozone countries, which are increasingly sceptical of Athens' ability to catch up with its deficit-cutting targets.

European officials intend to have ready by the end of the week a comprehensive plan to fight the debt crisis with new tools. That is expected to include new agreements on lightening Greece's debt load, boosting the health of Europe's banks to withstand the debt turmoil and enhancing the impact of the eurozone bailout fund's lending capacities.

Over the weekend, Germany Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said private holders of Greek bonds would probably have to endure bigger voluntary losses than the 20% level set in a July agreement. That is considered crucial if Greece is to have a fighting chance of emerging from its debt hole

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