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Anger, Uncertain Future in Greece Following Austerity Vote

  • Lisa Bryant

Workers start clean-up operations in a burned out shopping arcade after a night of violence that followed the Greek parliament approval of a deeply unpopular austerity bill in Athens, Greece, February 13, 2012.

Workers start clean-up operations in a burned out shopping arcade after a night of violence that followed the Greek parliament approval of a deeply unpopular austerity bill in Athens, Greece, February 13, 2012.

Greece may get its next installment of European Union bailout funds this week, after the country's parliament approved more austerity measures. As the country cleans up from massive riots protesting the cuts, however, Greece's financial future is far from certain.

Stock markets rose Monday following the Greek Parliament's approval of new austerity measures. The cuts are one condition for Greece to get more than $170 billion in bailout funds, without risking default on its debt.

Europe's largest economy, Germany, which has pushed for the reductions, cautiously welcomed the vote. A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said they reflected Greek efforts to put their country on the right track.

But approval did not come painlessly. As Greek lawmakers voted Sunday, angry protesters took to the streets of Athens and other cities, smashing and looting buildings.

One Athens resident, Sarah Saidi, blamed the police for the violence that she said came after peaceful protests against the austerity measures.

"The police have started this problem. They came into the crowd. The crowd was peaceful, moving, and they [the police] started it. But the people were fantastic," said Saidi.

Greek analyst Panos Tsakloglou said there is no doubt the population is angry at yet more belt-tightening measures.

"However, I do not think that these rioters represent all these demonstrators that were mostly peaceful yesterday," said Tsakloglou.

The vote appears to pave the way for E.U. finance ministers to approve a new loan installment to Greece when they meet Wednesday. But Germany says it is still awaiting a report by international debt inspectors on whether Athens has fulfilled all the conditions for more bailout funds.

Even if the funds come through, there are concerns Greece ultimately may leave the eurozone, possibly prompting other economically troubled members to follow.

"The extremes are that Greece completely falls apart and fails - goes into debt, into a chaotic debt. And that, of course, will also provoke social unrest," said Steven Ekovich, political science professor at the American University of Paris. "Or that, and I suppose this is the desired outcome, that Europe does come to the rescue of Greece, but on conditions that the Greek government and especially the Greek population find unacceptable."

The latest austerity measures follow a series of tax hikes and spending cuts that have driven up unemployment and hardship in Greece, which is now in its fifth year of recession.

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