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Greek lawmakers back bailout after all-night debate

AFP , Friday 14 Aug 2015
Greece
Lawmakers take part in a parliamentary session in Athens, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015 (Photo: AP)
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Greek lawmakers finally voted through the country's third international bailout Friday after a bitter all-night debate, hours before European finance ministers were due to meet to approve the deal with Germany digging in its heels.

As Eurogroup ministers gathered in Brussels to rubberstamp the 85-billion-euro ($95-billion) rescue plan, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras warned than any German bid to palm off his debt-ridden country with a bridging loan rather than a new deal would be "a return to a crisis without end".

Tsipras appealed to other EU countries to reject the alternative solution that Germany was suggesting, which he claimed would only prolong the agony.

"It is what certain people have been looking for systematically, and we have a responsibility to avert that, not to facilitate it," the embattled premier told the parliament after a day and night of heated debate on drastic austerity measures that have deeply divided his radical Syriza party.

Athens needs to unlock bailout funds before a 3.4-billion-euro repayment to the European Central Bank falls due on August 20.

A majority of 222 lawmakers approved the 400-page draft deal with 64 voting against, including 40 from Tsipras' own leftist party ranks.

Outspoken former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis and other senior Syriza cadres refused to support the three-year deal, which the premier has previously warned would force him to call early elections.

Tsipras said that failure to ratify the deal would enable Germany to push forward its proposal for a bridging loan.

But Berlin, Europe's paymaster, insists it needs further clarifications from Greece before giving the deal the nod.

Facing down critics in his own party, Tsipras told MPs: "I prefer compromise to the heroic dance of Zalongo" -- a reference to a notorious 19th-century mass suicide in northern Greece when a group of women and children jumped to their deaths rather than submit to the cruel Ottoman governor Ali Pasha.

His government "had taken on the responsibility to continue the fight rather than commit suicide and then go running to other international forums saying it wasn't fair that we had to kill ourselves," he added.

Tsipras had argued there was no choice but to agree to he swingeing cuts and sell-offs demanded by its international creditors "to assure the country's ability to survive and keep on fighting."

The vote was originally set for late Thursday, but was held up by procedural wrangling from hardline parliament chief Zoe Constantopoulou, who termed the bailout unconstitutional.

"Every corner and beauty of Greece is being sold... the government is giving the keys to the troika along with sovereignty and national assets," she said, referring to the country's creditors -- the EU, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

The highly-charged clashes on the deal began in parliamentary committees on Thursday, with debate raging on for nine hours through the night in the full chamber.

Now the drama moves to Brussels where eurozone finance ministers are expected to issue their verdict on the draft deal reached by Athens and officials from the creditors after weeks of negotiations.

German's deputy finance minister Jens Spahn sounded a note of caution about the prospects of a final deal there, saying Berlin and Paris still had questions on Greece's plans to privatise parts of its economy.

The Greek government had "come a long way", showing a "high degree of willingness to reform", Spahn conceded.

However, "we need more details in some areas. That is what we need to talk about -- by the way we have a joint proposal from France and Germany," he added, without giving details.

German Bundestag president Norbert Lammert has said that in the event of a thumbs-up from Greek lawmakers and the Eurogroup of finance ministers, the German parliament will convene an extraordinary session on August 18 or 19 to vote on the bailout.

Better-than-expected growth figures gave Tsipras, whose reform plans have sparked a rebellion by Syriza hardliners, a boost going into the vote and eurozone meeting.

Thursday's official estimates showed the economy expanding 0.8 percent in the second quarter of 2015 -- despite the cash-strapped government imposing capital controls to prevent a bank run.

But European Union forecasts Wednesday showed the Greek economy -- which only emerged from six years of brutal recession in 2014 -- shrinking 2.3 percent in 2015 and 1.3 percent in 2016.

Finland on Thursday was the first eurozone peer to give its approval, albeit with numerous conditions.

"There are 47 preconditions outlined by the 'troika' to the approval of the first payment," Finnish Finance Minister Alexander Stubb said, referring to Greece's three creditors.

In case of agreement, the first tranche would range between 26 and 43 billion euros, Stubb said.

Several other European parliaments need to approve the preliminary agreement of the bailout, and the IMF said Thursday it wants Greece's European partners to decide on the package of debt relief before determining if it will take part in Athens's next bailout.

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