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Greek Cabinet Mulls Austerity Mandates


Riot police secure the entrance to the German Embassy during an anti-austerity protest in Athens, February 17, 2012.

Riot police secure the entrance to the German Embassy during an anti-austerity protest in Athens, February 17, 2012.

Greek cabinet members are discussing how best to implement a series of budget cuts and other austerity measures that have already sparked rioting in the streets.

The officials gathered Saturday in Athens, facing several difficult choices.

The austerity measures are needed in order to secure a $170 billion bailout from the European Union and again prevent Greece from defaulting on its debt. But ministers are also expressing concerns about just how much more the Greek people can take.

Civil Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis told reporters, "the Greek people have done what they could. We have gone above and beyond and done more than the system can stand."

He also said Greece would honor its commitments, but also appealed for understanding from other European leaders.

Minister for Environment, Energy and Climate George Papaconstantiunou also expressed concerns, saying, "getting out of the crisis is much more than just austerity. It's about growth.''

Papaconstantiunou said Cabinet members expected to approve what he described as two big growth projects, including a plan to export solar energy.

European leaders say the $170 billion bailout for Greece will likely be approved Monday at a meeting in Brussels.

But concern for the plight of the Greek people appears to be growing.

In Paris, more than 1,000 people rallied to show solidarity with Greece. One protester who gave her name only as Maria said it was shameful the way the EU was treating Greece.

She said, "I am very angry. I would like all European people to realize what is coming up. Today it's Greece's turn, tomorrow it will be Spain's turn and the day after it will be France's turn.''

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, after conferring Friday with Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos on a conference call, said they are confident that a Greek rescue deal can be reached.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said that France and Germany, Europe's two biggest economies, agree that Greece must be supported to avoid default.

Greece is still working out some details of the bailout, the country's second in two years, with its international creditors. Last weekend, Greek lawmakers complied with the far-reaching demands of the lenders to impose more austerity measures on top of earlier ones despite violent protests in the streets of Athens.

The austerity measures have imposed hardship on many Greeks as the country has cut social spending, trimmed the country's minimum wage and agreed to eliminate thousands of government jobs.

The government says it needs the bailout to avoid defaulting next month on $19 billion in financial obligations. As part of its rescue, Greece is also completing negotiations with large financial institutions to cut in half the debt it owes them, a $132-billion reduction.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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