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Greek MPs adopt controversial bill tied to EU-IMF loans

ATHENS -- Greece's parliament late on Sunday narrowly approved an omnibus bill of reforms tied to the country's next tranche of EU-IMF loans, the parliament speaker said.

Despite 11th hour attempts by the opposition to delay the vote, parties backing the government carried the tough articles that had caused dissent within the coalition partners by a slim majority.

The first article including controversial reforms for milk passed with 152 votes against 135 in the 300-member parliament.

The second article including the reforms for the banks was passed by 151 votes against 136.

Former Greek Prime Minister, George Papandreou, member of the PASOK, the socialist party member of the ruling coalition, refrained from voting for this article.

“With great optimism and strength we are moving ahead ... We made a huge step forward for the Greece of the future,” Greek Prime Minister said in a statement after the omnibus bill was ratified by the Parliament.

Antonis Samaras also announced the expulsion of a New Democracy — the other ruling coalition party — lawmaker, Nikitas Kaklamanis who didn't vote for the first article containing milk and other reforms based on the OECD toolkit to improve competition in the country.

Earlier, Greece's main opposition Syriza party had 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.”

The motion was rejected. As the parliament debated the bill up to 7,000 people protested outside.

The Finance Minister accused Syriza of attempting an “unprecedented parliamentary coup” adding that the government “had an appropriate reply to those who chose populism.”

Greece wanted 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 will unlock for Greece some 8.5 billion euros (US$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 emphasized 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) are also protesting 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.

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Protesters hold placards that read “The government prescription is bad for your health — Medicines are not a commodity” during a protest against a new austerity bill that is being discussed in the Greek Parliament in Athens on Sunday, March 30. (AP)

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