It came after a night of rain, tear gas and clashes. But after four months of tortuous negotiations and a rancorous parliamentary debate, the Greek parliament finally announced late on Wednesday night that it had passed the most draconian package yet of austerity measures needed to keep Europe‘s weakest economy afloat.
Following heady scenes inside and outside the 300-seat house, 153 MPs supported the €13.5bn (£10.8bn) package in a vote that will be remembered as perhaps the most electrifying in the history of the three-year Greek debt crisis.
Approval of the spending cuts, tax rises and labour reforms was given with a weakened majority – seven rebels voted against the measures – but on trade markets around the world there were signs of relief. Mandarins in Brussels said the ballot would pave the way to the release of €31.5bn in EU and IMF sponsored rescue funds – desperately needed to keep bankruptcy at bay.
“Greece today has taken a big, decisive and optimistic step. A step towards recovery,” said prime minister Antonis Samaras after the cliffhanger vote. “I am very pleased,” he told reporters before emphasising that the “next step” was passage of the 2013 budget in a vote on Sunday.
With Greece’s future within the eurozone resting on the result, the conservative leader had implored wavering lawmakers to back the legislation as 100,000 protesters braved sporadic downpours to scream “Fight! They’re drinking our blood” and other anti-austerity slogans.
“The issue is to keep the country in the euro,” Samaras told the assembled deputies shortly after violence broke out when a tiny minority tore down a barricade in an attempt to storm the parliament.
“These are the very last painful measures,” said the leader, whose fragile coalition had faced its greatest test with the vote. “If further fiscal adjustment is needed it will come from clamping down on tax evasion and cutting public expenditure.”
As street battles raged, authorities used water cannon to disperse demonstrators throwing petrol bombs at police while loud booms and the piercing blasts of stun grenades rang out.