Greek lawmakers pass new austerity law despite protests

Police clash with masked demonstrators in Athens on October 20,  where tens of thousands of protesters rallied.

Story highlights

  • Greek lawmakers pass new austerity measures despite protests
  • Clashes break out in Athens between different groups of protesters and police
  • One protester dies after cardiac arrest, hospital officials say
  • European Union leaders worry that Greek debt threatens the euro

Greek lawmakers voted to approve a new round of tough budget-cutting measures Thursday, despite a second day of angry protests in which one demonstrator died.

Tens of thousands rallied outside the parliament building as lawmakers debated the unpopular measures, aimed at bringing down the country's huge national debt.

After a peaceful start, violent clashes broke out between anarchist rioters and the police, and between the anarchists and some union demonstrators who wanted to keep the protest calm.

Tear gas was fired into the crowd, while rocks and fire bombs were thrown.

The protester who died was a member of the PAME workers' union, lawmaker Makis Voridis told parliament. Hospital officials told CNN he was a 53-year-old man who suffered cardiac arrest.

The Greek minister for health said the demonstrator had been taken to an Athens hospital without a pulse and could not be revived, but he had no injuries. Earlier reports suggested he had been injured.

Lawmakers approved the austerity measures by 154 in favor to 144 against, despite nationwide protests and a two-day strike that has gripped the country.

The new bill is expected to lead to around 30,000 job losses and further cuts to wages and pensions for workers in the public sector.

"We have no hope. The only hope we have is the strength of the people," said protester Vagelis Filezis, a civil engineer, before the vote.

He said Europe's leaders were trying "to save the banks but they don't think about the people."

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And he warned Italy and Spain, which are also facing debt crises: "Look at us. This is where you will be in two to three years."

Organizers had urged protesters from all over the country to come to Athens Thursday, suggesting the crowd could be larger than the 70,000-plus police estimated Wednesday.

Organizers estimated the turnout Wednesday at 120,000, which would make it one of the biggest protests in the country in years.

Police said there were about 40,000 people on the streets Thursday morning -- fewer than at the same time a day earlier -- and about 3,000 police officers.

The mood early in the day was good-natured, but when violence erupted later it was unusual for the fighting that broke out between different groups of protesters,as well as confrontations with police.

On Wednesday, clashes between protesters and police in front of the Greek parliament building left at least six protesters and 15 police officers injured, authorities said. At least 15 people were arrested.

Some marchers Thursday accused the government of planting troublemakers in the crowd to spark violence.

"They have never been caught," said teacher Thannasis Karametsus. "Why not?"

Protesters aimed to shut down wide sectors of the country during the two-day national strike.

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"Don't bow your head, it's time for resistance and struggle," marchers chanted in the capital Wednesday as they gathered for the union-backed demonstration.

"I'm here for my children and everyone else's children. Those punks in there have destroyed everyone's lives," said former railway worker Diamandis Goufas, 62, pointing at parliament.

Greeks are angry at yet another round of planned austerity measures as Greece tries to bring down its stratospheric debt.

Lawmakers are trying to cut government costs to reassure international backers it is doing enough to earn the bailout funds they have promised to pour into the country.

European Union leaders are scrambling to minimize the effect of Greece's debt on their common currency, the euro.

Over the weekend, finance ministers from the world's largest economies pledged their commitment to take "all necessary actions" to stabilize markets.

They aim to keep banks well capitalized so they can weather the effects of any defaults by Greece or other indebted countries, such as Portugal, Spain, Ireland or Italy.

But there appears to be a split between France and Germany -- Europe's two largest economies -- on how to do it.

Germany has stressed that individual European states should inject capital into domestic banks that lack sufficient buffers. But analysts say France is opposed to this idea because it could jeopardize the nation's top-tier credit rating.

European leaders are expected to hear concrete details about how the plan might work at a European Council meeting Sunday.

European Union heads of state are widely expected to finalize the plan in early November at a meeting of the Group of 20 world economic powers.