Greece Passes Austerity Bill As Riots Spread

The Greek parliament has approved an austerity bill aimed at securing a second bailout as riots spread across Athens.

Before the parliamentary vote, serious violence broke out in the capital and spread to other Greek towns and cities.

At least 10 buildings were set on fire, including a cinema and a bank, and shops were smashed up as masked rioters fought police. Dozens of officers and protesters were injured, while more than 20 suspected rioters were arrested.

The violence exploded after more than 100,000 protesters marched to parliament to demand a vote against the latest cuts.

Sky News Europe correspondent Robert Nisbet said: "The Greek people have been suffering, there is no doubt about that.

"You just have to look at some of the figures. Unemployment here is running at well over 20% and if you look at the 15 to 24-year-olds half are now unemployed, pensions have been cut drastically, public sector workers have been sacked.

"But now this austerity package has been passed there is going to be even more pain - 150,000 further public sector workers are going to be made redundant, 15,000 this year, and the munimum wage cut by 22%."

Eurozone finance ministers will meet in Brussels on Wednesday to decide whether the vote is enough to trigger the 130bn euro (£109bn) bailout.

Before Sunday's vote, Greek prime minister Lucas Papademos denounced the violence as he urged parliament to help the country avoid bankruptcy.

"Vandalism, violence and destruction have no place in a democratic country and won't be tolerated," he said.

State TV reported that violence had also broken out in Heraklion, the capital of Crete, as well as the towns of Volos and Agrinio in central Greece.

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos warned that the alternative to the bill, namely bankruptcy and possible departure from the eurozone, would be much worse.

"The choice is not between sacrifice and no sacrifices at all, but between sacrifices and unimaginably harsher ones," he told parliament.

MPs voted 199-74 in favour of the cuts but their was dissent from members of the two main coalition parties. Thirty-seven politicians from the majority Socialists and conservative New Democracy party failed to support the bill.

Greece needs the latest bailout before March 20 to meet debt repayments of 14.5bn euros, or suffer a chaotic default which could shake the entire euro zone.

It hopes it will be combined with a massive bond swap to write off half the country's privately held debt.