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Austerity expands in Greece

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By The Associated Press
Wednesday, July 17, 2013, 9:39 p.m.

ATHENS — Greece's parliament narrowly approved a new batch of austerity measures early on Thursday, including thousands of public-sector job cuts and transfers, demanded by the country's creditors to keep vital bailout loans flowing.

Lawmakers in the 300-seat house backed the cutbacks in an article-by-article vote, with two of the governing coalition's 155 deputies failing to back crucial articles.

It was the first major test for conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras since a left-wing party abandoned his coalition government last month.

Greece has been kept out of bankruptcy since it started receiving rescue loans in 2010 from the International Monetary Fund and other countries using the euro, but austerity measures imposed in return have caused a dramatic increase in poverty and unemployment.

The new legislation will put 12,500 public-sector staff, mostly teachers and municipal workers, in a program that subjects them to involuntary transfers and possible dismissals. It will pave the way for 15,000 layoffs by the end of next year.

City halls across the country have been closed this week, with uncollected trash piling up on the streets, and unions held a general strike on Tuesday against the proposed cuts.

“I fully understand the hardship the Greek people are going through during the great crisis,” Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said during the debate. “But I am fully convinced that the path we have chosen is correct.”

About 3,000 people protested outside parliament in central Athens before the vote, chanting anti-austerity slogans in a third consecutive day of protests.

But the reaction — in the midst of the summer holiday season — was subdued compared to previous, often violent demonstrations that brought tens of thousands into the streets.

The measures include a ban of all demonstrations in the city center, including the area outside parliament that has been the focus of past violent protests.

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