ATHENS, Greece — Greek lawmakers began voting Wednesday on new austerity measures needed to secure crucial bailout funds as protesters opposed to the bill clashed with riot police outside Parliament.
The bill needs a simple majority to pass and Prime Minister George Papandreou appears to have enough votes even though one of his deputies said he would not be backing the package.
A no vote would push Greece to the brink of default as soon as next month with potentially huge repercussions for Europe's banking sector and global markets.
As deputies debated inside Parliament, riot police fired volleys of tear gas to push back protesters, who were pelting police with bottles and trash and overturning barriers.
Papandreou's governing Socialists hold a five-seat majority in the 300-seat chamber. The bill needs a simple majority of 151 to pass.
The package, which involves €28 billion ($40 billion) worth of spending cuts and tax increases over five years, is a condition for the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund to release the next €12 billion ($17 billion) installment of the country's bailout fund. An additional bill that details how the austerity measures will be implemented must also be passed in a vote Thursday.
Hours ahead of the vote, it looks like only one Socialist deputy will fail to heed Papandreou's call to back the measures, suggesting that the bill will get at least the 151 votes needed for it to pass. Hopes that the bill will pass have seen European stock markets trade strongly Wednesday and the euro jump toward $1.45.
The vote comes against a backdrop of violent demonstrations and on the second day of a nationwide general strike that has brought much of Greece to a standstill. Hundreds of flights and ferried have been canceled, leaving tourists stranded during the summer high season.
Protesters were trying to encircle Parliament to prevent deputies from entering and voting for the bill and a massive security operation was under way, with a large section of central Athens sealed off to traffic.
Scuffles broke out early in the morning as demonstrators attempted to block a major avenue leading to the center of the city, and to Parliament. Riot police responded with pepper spray, and 10 people were treated in a nearby hospital for minor injuries, hospital officials said.
Demonstrators also hoisted ghoulish effigies of men they hold responsible for Greece's misfortune — Papandreou, new Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos and Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos — and shook them in the air on sticks.
"Dogs, you look after your masters," they chanted at police. The furious marchers also emptied bags of garbage from municipal containers and lobbed them at the security forces, who stood their ground impassively.
A day earlier, extensive clashes left at least 46 people injured, most of them police, as rioters pelted police with chunks of marble and ripped up paving stones, and authorities responded with repeated volleys of tear gas and stun grenades.Comment on this story
Greece has said it has funds only until mid-July, after which it will be unable to pay salaries and pensions, or service its debts, without the next bailout installment from the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund. The country is also in talks for additional help in the form of a second bailout, which the prime minister has said will be roughly the size of last year's €110 billion ($157 billion) package.
"Voting these measures is required to maintain our credibility in the (bailout) process," Venizelos said during the debate Tuesday night. "Voting for these measures, regardless of any reservations, is an important, brave act of political responsibility."
Derek Gatopoulos, Menelaos Hadjicostis and Elena Becatoros contributed.