ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s left-wing government launched a frantic 24-hour effort late Tuesday to push more austerity measures through Parliament and meet demands from European creditors as it faced down mounting anger at home.
The belt-tightening measures, which include pension cuts and higher sales tax rates on everything from condoms to racehorses, were agreed upon with eurozone leaders to prevent the Greek economy from collapsing, and as part of a planned third bailout worth 85 billion euros ($94 billion).
The new measures mean economically-battered Greeks will pay more for most goods and services by the end of the week.
Hard-liners in Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ own Syriza party were in open revolt, and unions and trade associations representing civil servants, municipal workers, pharmacy owners and others called or extended strikes to coincide with Wednesday’s Parliament vote.
Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis said lead eurozone lender Germany and its allies had acted like “financial assassins” by forcing the deal on Athens, and urged Tsipras to reject it.
“The deal is unacceptable,” Lafazanis said in a statement. “It may pass through Parliament … but the people will never accept it and will be united in their fight against it.”
In an interview on state TV, Tsipras said he would not step down, despite the open dissent within his own Cabinet and party. “I will not run away from my responsibilities,” he said.
He also criticized the deal, but said it was the best Greece could get.
“The policies imposed on us were irrational,” Tsipras said. “We faced a tough and punitive position from our partners … But the (agreement) does offer a way out of the crisis.”
Pro-European opposition parties have pledged support for the bailout bills, but Tsipras could effectively lose his majority in Parliament, weakening his ability to push through measures that he had himself vehemently opposed until a few weeks ago.
Tsipras’ coalition partner, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, also bitterly denounced the new deal.
“There was a coup. A coup in the heart of Europe,” said Kammenos, who heads the right-wing Independent Greeks party.
“They want the government to fall and replace it with one not elected by the Greek people.”
The government holds 162 seats in Greece’s 300-member Parliament, and more than 30 of Syriza’s own lawmakers have publicly voiced objections.
There was speculation Tsipras might choose to reshuffle his Cabinet, which would remove dissenters from key positions.
Athens was forced to accept harsh terms to remain in the euro after defaulting on its debts to the International Monetary Fund and closing banks to prevent a deposit run.
On Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund said Greece’s finances were even more dire than previously reported. The IMF said Greece’s debts would peak over the next two years at 200 percent of the country’s economic output; earlier it had said the debt burden would peak last year at 177 percent. The IMF now says Greece needs more debt relief and 85 billion euros in new financing (up from an earlier estimate of around 60 billion euros) through 2018.
The IMF said that “Greece’s debt can now only be made sustainable through debt relief measures that go far beyond what Europe has been willing to consider so far.”
Greece faces a deadline Monday to repay 4.2 billion euros ($4.6 billion) to the European Central Bank. It is also in arrears on 2 billion euros to the IMF.
It will take an estimated four weeks for Greece to access the new bailout loans, leaving EU finance ministers scrambling to find ways to get Athens some of the money sooner.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew is traveling to Europe to confer with officials about the Greek crisis. Lew will meet Wednesday in Frankfurt with European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi. On Thursday, he will meet German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and French Finance Minister Michel Sapin.
The months-long standoff between Greece and its creditors has taken a heavy toll on an economy that started the year with a 2.9 percent growth forecast.
A Greek small business association said Tuesday that the new austerity measures were likely to cause the economy to shrink for a seventh year, with a 3.5 percent drop in output.
Despite the bleak forecasts, some Greeks appeared to take the latest turmoil in stride, saying the measures Greece will have to pass are harsh but that the alternative would have been worse.
“We aren’t in a good position within the European Union under the current measures and under this present situation,” said Kostas Plafoutzis, an Athens merchant. “But under the current conditions, if we exit the EU, we will find ourselves in a considerably worse situation.”
Associated Press writers Pan Pylas in Brussels, Anna Psaroudaki in Athens and Paul Wiseman and Martin Crutsinger in Washington contributed to this report.
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