Bill introduces taxes for most Greeks; anarchists clash with police on the streets of Athens

Bill introduces taxes for most Greeks; anarchists clash with police on the streets of Athens

Greece's parliament has approved a bill reforming the debt-ridden country's pension and tax systems.

The bill, introduced as part of requirements the country must meet under its third international bailout, will increase social security and pension contributions and raise taxes for most people.

The bill was approved by the 153 MPs of the ruling Syriza/Independent Greeks government coalition. All opposition parties in the 300-member parliament voted against.

The vote took place amid a crippling general strike and protests that briefly turned violent on Sunday.

Anarchists hurled fire bombs, chairs and wooden planks at riot police in brief clashes outside parliament while politicians were debating the bill, disrupting a much larger peaceful rally.

Police responded with stun grenades and bursts of tear gas to disperse the anarchists, who were split into two groups - one of them mixed among a peaceful protest of about 10,000 people holding banners and the other inside Syntagma Square in front of parliament.

The larger protest was called by Greece's biggest unions and most of those demonstrating were Communist Party sympathisers.

About 45 minutes before they started throwing projectiles, anarchists approached and beat up a known farmer activist, shouting that he was a member of the far-right Golden Dawn party. Other protesters dragged the farmer away.

A few minutes later, another group of anarchists set upon another person, with riot police using stun grenades to stop the beating. The anarchists then regrouped before attacking riot police outside a trio of luxury hotels in Syntagma Square.

The police use of tear gas initially cleared the space outside the parliament, but most of the peaceful protesters returned, determined to stay until the vote.

There were also clashes in Thessaloniki, when anarchists broke away from a protest march to hurl fire bombs at police guarding the local offices of the ruling Syriza party. Police used tear gas and chased the rioters through the streets.

Workers say the tax and pension increases will decimate their incomes, already hurt by six years of crippling austerity.

Bill introduces taxes for most Greeks; anarchists clash with police on the streets of Athens

The government now expects that its creditors, which include the European Commission, the European Central Bank, the European Stability Mechanism and the International Monetary Fund, will move to lighten its debt burden, and that this will dominate the agenda of a meeting of the EU finance ministers in Monday's Eurogroup.

But the creditors themselves, with the notable exception of the IMF, are against forgiving part of Greece's massive debt. At most, they appear willing to discuss cutting the higher interest rates that will prevail after 2022 and lengthening the repayment period.

All of the creditors have put pressure on Greece for further austerity measures costing billions, including ones that would kick in automatically should Greece fail to achieve agreed levels of a primary budget surplus in 2018.

For the government, which had hoped to divide the creditors to achieve more favourable terms and be excused from further austerity measures, the latest vote will not be the last.

Already, a new bill is being prepared, calling for higher taxes on a range of products, from tobacco to beer to broadband Internet connections. This bill is expected to pass later in the month.

Talks on further reforms as part of the country's third bailout have been dragging on for more than six months, delaying payouts of vital loans.

The opposition unanimously blasted the added taxes and the government's record in failing to revive the economy, now in its eighth year of recession and its seventh under creditor-mandated austerity.

Prime minister Alexis Tsipras and his ministers defended their plans, saying things were worse when the opposition was ruling the country and that taxes were better than spending cuts and they were trying to root out corruption and entanglements with powerful business interests.

"You say you want spending cuts, but you don't dare name them," Mr Tsipras told the opposition.

He and labour minister George Katrougalos, who introduced the bill, said social security contributions would decline for many self-employed professionals, with Mr Katrougalos adding the bill's provisions showed the way forward for social policy in a Europe dominated by pro-market "neo-liberals".

The bill was condemned by all major unions and professional associations. The latter, including engineers and doctors, warned that MPs who are also members of those associations will face disciplinary action and possible expulsion if they voted for the bill. Mr Tsipras is a member of an engineers' association.

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