martes, 21 de junio de 2011

Greek Leader Faces Key Confidence Vote

ATHENS—Prime Minister George Papandreou faces a crucial vote of confidence in parliament late Tuesday as the government tries to shore up support for its economic reforms amid growing popular discontent over a fresh wave of austerity measures.

The vote, which is expected at midnight local time (5 p.m. ET), comes just days after a mass protest over new government cutbacks shook Greece's political establishment and touched off a revolt within the ruling Socialist party.

In an effort to assuage both public opinion and the party rank-and-file, Mr. Papandreou reshuffled his cabinet Friday, sacking his unpopular finance minister, who was seen as the architect of the austerity measures.


EU Links Greek Aid to Budget Cuts

Analysts say the move has helped rally the Socialists—who control 155 seats in Greece's 300 member parliament—and is likely to pave the way for parliamentary approval of the new measures in a separate vote expected later this month.

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Thierry Roge/Reuters

Greece's Prime Minister George Papandreou spoke to the media after a meeting at the EU Council in Brussels on Monday.



"I don't see any surprises coming tonight. Papandreou will get his vote of confidence, the cabinet reshuffle helped unify his party," said Anthony Livanios, an independent political analyst. "And with a vote of confidence, he will be able to pass the austerity measures as well."

In May last year, Greece narrowly avoided default with the help of a €110 billion bailout from its fellow euro-zone members and the International Monetary Fund. But still facing prohibitively high borrowing costs on international markets, Greece now needs another €100 billion or so in fresh loans to cover its borrowing needs for the next three years.

As a quid-pro-quo for that second aid package—but also for Greece to receive the next quarterly disbursement of its existing loan—the government must pass a new, five-year, €28 billion austerity program and related privatization plan.

On Monday, European finance ministers meeting in Luxembourg put off a final decision on that second aid package until July 11. But the ministers promised to disburse the next tranche of the existing loan early next month—once Greece's parliament approved the new measures.

The IMF, which is providing about a quarter of Greece's total loan, warned starkly in a report Monday that failure to address Greece's debt crisis "threatens to overwhelm" Europe's broader economic recovery.

A visiting troika of European Union, IMF and European Central Bank officials began a two-day visit to Athens earlier Tuesday to check on last-minute changes to the government's five-year program.

"The troika visit is taking place at a technical level and will be to see whether some recent changes in the overall package still conform with what Greece has promised its lenders," said a finance ministry official.

Greece's two major umbrella unions, private-sector GSEE and its public-sector counterpart ADEDY, incensed over the austerity measures, have called for a rally outside parliament later Tuesday.

Greece's militant power-sector workers' union, Genop, has also begun an open-ended strike against the government's privatization plans.

At the same time, thousands of ordinary Greek workers, middle-class citizens and retirees indignant over the cutbacks are also expected to stage a mass protest outside parliament ahead of the vote.

—Riva Froymovich, Matthew Dalton and Charles Forelle contributed to this article.

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