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Greek MPs approve £90bn rescue deal

The Greek Parliament has approved a massive bond swap that will wipe 107 billion euro (£90 billion) off the country's privately held debt.

The emergency bill was passed by a show of hands in an almost empty House as the two main parties that back Prime Minister Lucas Papademos' governing coalition stated their support for the swap deal.

Greece is now expected to launch a formal offering to private bondholders on Friday. They will have 10 days to respond on whether they will take part in the exchange.

The writedown to be imposed on banks, pension funds and other private holders of Greek government bonds was agreed upon this week by finance ministers from the 17-member eurozone.

The meeting in Brussels also approved a new 130 billion euro (£110 billion) bailout to prevent Greece from going bankrupt and keep the country within the euro area.

Finance minister Evangelos Venizelos said he hoped the new agreement on rescue loans would be signed and validated by the end of March. Speaking in Parliament ahead of the vote, Mr Venizelos insisted that ratifying the bond swap was the only way forward, and the alternative would be catastrophic, setting Greece back decades.

Greece has been surviving since May 2010 on a first batch of international rescue loans as it became unable to finance its huge debt load. But more than two years of harsh austerity implemented to secure the rescue funds have left the economy in freefall, with businesses closing in the tens of thousands and unemployment at a record high of 21% in November.

In its latest projections, the European Commission forecast a 0.3% contraction in the eurozone economy this year, with Greece leading the way down with a massive 4.4% decline. That would be the fifth straight year of recession in Greece.

The debt relief deal will force private bondholders to exchange their devalued Greek government bonds with new ones with a 53.5% lower face value, longer maturities and lower interest rates - an average 3.6%, compared with the previous 4.85%.

The bill includes collective action clauses that, if activated, will allow a majority of bondholders favouring the swap to impose their decision on holdouts.

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