Greece prepares to approve bill needed for fresh loans

Public sector employees shout slogans outside the Parliament in Athens on March 12, 2014 during a demonstration against layoffs

The Greek parliament was expected to approve late on Sunday a bill required by the country's international lenders despite eleventh hour attempts to delay voting by the opposition.

Greece's main opposition Syriza party called for a dissent and censure motion against Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, in an attempt to push back the crucial vote on reforms.

Syriza's leader Alexis Tsipras who branded the new bill "a crime committed against the people and our country", accused Stournaras of being "the main administrator of the death contract against Greek society".

"You are passing a sweeping 600-pages multi-bill with which you are signing away the banking system and you are abolishing labour rights and the public insurance system," Tsipras said, condemning the fast-track parliamentary procedure that has been chosen.

The motion was rejected. As the parliament debated the bill up to 12,000 people protested outside.

Greece wants the bill ratified ahead of meetings with EU finance ministers in Athens on Tuesday in order to formally conclude the agreement for the new tranche of EU-IMF loans by the second half of April.

The legislation, which incorporates international recommendations to improve competitiveness and also facilitates a long-delayed bank recapitalisation, will unlock for Greece some 8.5 billion euros ($11.7 billion).

On Saturday, Greece's deputy minister in charge of rural development and food, Maximos Charakopoulos, resigned over new milk regulations, while other coalition government's lawmakers have threatened to vote against the bill for the same reason.

Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras has emphasised the bill represents the final bout of austerity measures adopted since 2010, when Athens was forced to apply for an EU-IMF bailout to stave off bankruptcy.

The government has come under pressure from professional groups about measures in the latest bill.

Pharmacists launched last week an indefinite strike and the Greek Seamen's Union (PNO) has also protested against the latest reforms.

Greece has announced plans to return to borrowing on financial markets in the second half of the year, and it could be much sooner, according to media.

"What is of interest to us is for (the agreement on the debt arrangements) to take place immediately, in the most realistic way, taking into consideration... all the lenders," he said in an interview with Real News on Sunday.