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–>Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou’s cabinet is expected to survive a confidence vote late on Tuesday but must rapidly pass two more tests to avert the eurozone’s first sovereign default. The vote follows a eurozone ultimatum that the debt-choked Mediterranean state must approve a new five-year package of deeply unpopular economic reforms in two weeks or miss out on a 12-billion euro aid tranche and plunge into bankruptcy.

European Commission President Manuel Barroso piled on the pressure, saying that Greece faced a “moment of truth” and needed to show it was genuinely committed to the reforms. “No-one can be helped against their will,” Barroso said in Brussels, adding that backing from the political opposition – which has so far rejected the package and called for elections – was important for success.

But as parliament debated the confidence motion ahead of a midnight vote, demonstrators camped in front of the assembly maintained their adamant opposition to the reforms. “I believe we should go bankrupt and get over with it. These measures are slowly killing us,” said 22-year-old student Efi Koloverou. “We want competent people to take over.”

Julietta, a public sector worker who declined to give her full name, said: “We want them all to get out, to go home…the system is not working.” Unions and grassroots activists will protest at parliament before the vote, building on more than three weeks of demonstrations that erupted into violence last week and split the ruling PASOK party.

Workers at Greek state power utility PPC continued a 48-hour strike that started Sunday in protest at government plans to sell the company. The strike has resulted in rolling power outages around the country. Papandreou stifled dissent by replacing some unpopular government figures with critics of the plan. Now, with 155 of the chamber’s 300 seats, the party is expected to win the confidence motion in a vote due around 2100 GMT but which could slip into the early hours of Wednesday.

Assuming it survives the vote, the government must hammer through the five-year package of 28 billion euro ($39.84 billion) in tax hikes and spending cuts by June 28. It must then push through laws implementing the reforms – potentially more difficult as it will tackle individual privatisations, tax measures and spending cuts – in time for an extraordinary meeting of eurozone finance ministers on July 3.

The cabinet will meet on Wednesday afternoon to approve a draft bill implementing the measures, officials said. Pundits say it is very unlikely the cabinet will fail to muster all its parliamentarians to pass the confidence vote, as this would lead to political chaos and early elections which PASOK would likely lose.

Inspectors from the International Monetary Fund and European Union arrived on Tuesday to examine a request by newly appointed Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos for changes to the mid-term plan. Greece’s government has said the lenders’ inspectors would discuss changes “at a technical level”. Eurozone officials have told Reuters the plan for the new bailout, meant to extend Greece’s year-old 110-billion-euro deal and fund it into late 2014, would feature up to 60 billion euros of fresh official loans, 30 billion euros from the private sector and 30 billion euros from privatisations.

Copyright Reuters, 2011

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