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Despite riots, Greece pushes ahead with austerity (+video)

The Greek Parliament voted last night to slash the minimum wage and public sector jobs in exchange for a bailout, despite public fury that led to Molotov cocktails and tear gas. 

By Nikolia ApostolouContributor / February 13, 2012

A shop-owner ponders riot damage after a night of violence which followed the Greek parliament approval of a deeply unpopular austerity bill in Athens, February 13. Police said 150 shops were looted in the capital and 48 buildings set ablaze.

John Kolesidis/REUTERS

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Athens

Greek politicians debated new austerity measures until deep into the night yesterday while outside, tens of thousands of protestors chanted "traitors" at the lawmakers, who they accused of selling out Greece.  

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Multiple buildings were set alight in downtown Athens yesterday, and riot police battled protesters throwing Molotov cocktails and stones.

Despite the popular anger, Greek lawmakers agreed to slash the government workforce and cut the minimum wage by 20 percent – the price demanded by international lenders and the European Union for a bailout. Though the International Monetary Fund and other supporters of the plan say it will get the country on track for economic recovery, such austerity at a time of record unemployment looks certain to deepen the pain in the short term and increase opposition to Greece's already shaky coalition government.

The European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, pushed for this second round of austerity measures as a condition for Greece to receive a second bailout package worth 130 million euros ($170 million).

It was the second time in less than seven months that the so-called troika has steered Greece toward more drastic budgetary cuts. Greece remains in a deep recession and Greeks are now coping with an unemployment rate that has reached nearly 21 percent (almost 50 percent for those under 25). 

The vote went ahead even though the Parliament’s Scientific Committee issued a report saying the new measures violate the Greek Constitution.

“I call on the public to show calm,” Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos told lawmakers Sunday night. “At these crucial times, we do not have the luxury of this type of protest. Vandalism and destruction have no place in a democracy and will not be tolerated.”

Athens burning

Local police announced that more than 40 fires were set in the center of Athens. Among the buildings targeted were banks, a cinema, and a Starbucks. About 70 people were taken to the hospital, but no one was seriously wounded.

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