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Police and protesters clash as Greek parliament votes on austerity

Reuters/Panagiotis Tzamaros

Greek police clashed with thousands of demonstrators, as they prevented them from surrounding parliament on Wednesday, as MPs voted on 28.4-billion-euro austerity package demanded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Union (EU).

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A two-day general strike caused power cuts and stopped public transport in Athens and riot police used tear gas in several parts of a city, with the main confrontation being with

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

crowds trying to gain access to Syntagma Square, where the parliament building stands.

Inside opposition MP Elsa Papadimitriou told the assembly that she would vote for the package, although her right-wing New Democracy party has opposed it.

"To act with patriotism is to support the consensus and cooperation,” she said. “The plan is a solution, necessary... but budgetary asphyxiation and economic suicide are not."

George Papandreou’s government has a majority of five.

A second vote on the detail behind the measures has still to be held on Thursday.

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said that while the measures were "unjust" and “harsh," a vote in favour would be "positive" for the country, and represent "courageous action on the part of deputies".

New IMF chief Christine Lagarde has urged the opposition to support the government and vote for the package, saying Tuesday the austerity measures were needed to save Greece's "destiny".

EU president Herman Van Rompuy said approval of the package was "crucial for the Greek people, but also for the eurozone and the stability of the world economy".

If the deal is passed 12 billion euros of blocked funds from the first bailout may be authorised as early as Sunday, enabling Greece to avoid bankruptcy when repayments fall due in mid-July.

Negotiations on a second bailout would then continue with contentious points being how much creditors would roll over existing debts and how much Greece should raise from privatising publicly owned assets.

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