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Greece outlines new austerity measures as debt load rises

ATHENS--Greece's government on Wednesday outlined the new austerity measures it intends to take over the next two years, a series of painful spending cuts and tax hikes that its international bailout creditors are demanding in exchange for rescue loans.

The country's finance minister also submitted a revised draft budget for 2013, with figures predicting the debt load will increase sharply as the recession deepens into a sixth straight year.

Unions responded by announcing a 48-hour general strike for next week, when the new measures are expected to be voted on in Parliament.

The 13.5 billion euros (US$17.5 billion) worth of cutbacks for 2013-14 include a two-year increase in the retirement age, from the current average of 65, salary and pension cuts and another round of tax increases, including raising taxes for the interest on bank deposits from 10 to 15 percent.

The vast majority of the measures, about 9.2 billion euros, are to be taken next year. They include a 4.6-billion-euro cut in pensions and a 1.17-billion-euro cut from salaries. Healthcare spending will be trimmed by a further 455 million euros.

Parliamentary approval of the measures is essential if Greece is to receive the next installment of its bailout loans — this time a hefty 31 billion euros. Without the funds, the country has said it will run out of money on Nov. 16.

Greece's three governing parties have spent months negotiating these measures with international debt inspectors, who have yet to formally approve them. The talks have severely strained ties in the already uneasy coalition of conservatives, socialists and a small left-wing party.

With just days to go before an expected Parliamentary vote on the measures, the Democratic Left has insisted it cannot back them. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has warned that the country will face financial chaos if they are not passed.

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