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Greece passes new austerity deal amid violent clashes (VIDEO)

Greek lawmakers approved harsh new austerity measures amid rioting in central Athens and clashes with police.

Greek violence 2012 02 12Enlarge
Protesters rallying against government austerity plans clash with riot police in front of the parliament in Athens on Feb. 12 2012. (ANGELOS TZORTZINIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Greek lawmakers on Monday approved harsh new austerity measures after rioters in central Athens torched buildings, looted shops and clashed with riot police, the Associated Press reports.

The historic vote paves the way for a crucial $170 billion bailout package. Without it, Greece would have defaulted on its debt in March and likely would have had to leave the eurozone.

AP reported lawmakers voted 199-74 in favor of the cutbacks, despite strong dissent among the two main coalition members.

The BBC reports on Sunday protestors threw stones and petrol bombs in street battles with police and AP says at least ten buildings, including a bank, cinema and several shops, were set alight. Both report that tear gas was used to disperse the protesters who had gathered in Syntagma Square in front of the parliament buildings.

“The rebellion has begun,” the renowned leftist, Manolic Glezos is quoted as saying by the Guardian. “These measures will never pass. They are a breach of our democracy,” he said.

But has history would have it, he was wrong.

The Guardian says the plaza in front of parliament “resembled a war zone” with burning rubbish bins and clouds of tear gas.

The ABC estimates that about 80,000 people were involved in the protests. It says that dozens of people, and at least 40 police officers had been injured.

The protests, according to the BBC correspondent, were being described as “surprisingly large” compared to other demonstrations that have been staged in recent months. 

The Sydney Morning Herald cites Reuters and CBS' reports that the protesters included trade unionists, youths with shaven heads, communist activists and left-wing sympathisers, many of them wearing gas masksand waving Greek flags.

The unrest came as MPs prepared a late-night vote on a bill to introduce austerity measures demanded by the European Union (EU), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB) in return for a US$170 billion (€130 billion) bailout to keep the country solvent. The proposed measures include 15,000 public-sector job cuts and a 20 per cent cut in the minimum wage.

The Prime Minister Lucas Papademos is reported as saying that failure to pass the bill would be “disastrous”, with Greece facing bankruptcy in March.

A separate protest in Thessaloniki attracted about 20,000 participants, the BBC says.

More from GlobalPost:  Greece reaches deal on austerity

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/120212/violent-clashes-greece-over-austerity-measures-video