Athens: Greek lawmakers on Monday approved harsh new austerity measures demanded by bailout creditors to save the debt-crippled nation from bankruptcy, after rioters in central Athens torched buildings, looted shops and clashed with riot police.
    
The historic vote paves the way for Greece's European partners and the International Monetary Fund to release USD 170 billion in new rescue loans, without which Greece would default on its debt mountain next month and likely leave the eurozone, a scenario that would further roil global markets.
    
Lawmakers voted 199-74 in favor of the cutbacks, despite strong dissent among the two main coalition members. A total 37 lawmakers from the majority Socialists and conservative New Democracy party either voted against the party line, abstained or voted present.
    
Sunday's clashes erupted after more than 100,000 protesters marched to the parliament to rally against the drastic cuts, which will ax one in five civil service jobs and slash the minimum wage by more than a fifth.
    
At least 10 buildings were on fire, including a movie theater, bank and cafeteria, and looters smashed dozens of shops in the worst riot damage in years.
    
Dozens of police officers were injured and at least 55 protesters were hospitalised. Forty-five suspected rioters were arrested and a further 40 detained.
    
As the vote got under way early today, Prime Minister Lucas Papademos urged calm, pointing to the country's dire financial straits.
    
"Vandalism and destruction have no place in a democracy and will not be tolerated," Papademos told Parliament.     

"I call on the public to show calm. At these crucial times, we do not have the luxury of this type of protest. I think everyone is aware of how serious the situation is."
    
Since May 2010, Greece has survived on a USD 145 billion bailout from its European partners and the International Monetary Fund. When that proved insufficient, the new rescue package was approved.

(Agencies)