Market-Watchers, Greeks On Edge Ahead of Pivotal Austerity Vote

  • Greece protest flag 7 Nov 2012 2
    Protestors outside the Greek Parliament Wednesday. Reuters
  • Protesters in Greece's Syntagma Square
    Protesters in Greece's Syntagma Square Reuters
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Just hours after the U.S. presidential election concluded with an orderly denouement, another highly anticipated -- and arguably more uncertain -- vote halfway around the world had market-watchers on edge Wednesday.

The vote, where Greece’s politicians were set to ratify a new package of austerity measures brokered with foreign lenders over the loud objections of the nation’s citizens, was being touted as not just another contentious decision in the long-winded saga of the euro zone financial debacle, but as a likely make-it-or-break-it event in the 4-year-old crisis.

“Strange to think that over 100 million votes cast in the U.S. may have less impact upon the markets over the next month or so than some 300 votes due to be cast in the Greek parliament this evening,” Gary Jenkins of Swordfish Research told The Guardian.

As is usual for Athens, the protagonists of the day’s drama had slated a full day of fireworks.

Shortly after 9 a.m. local time, the Greek parliament began debating the bill. Or more precisely, they began debating whether to debate the bill, with opposition parties in the chamber immediately protesting that the slated 10 hours of discussion were not enough to consider a piece of legislation they had only been officially handed on Monday.

The opposition Independent Greeks went further, challenging the constitutionality of the second through 11th paragraphs of the document, and asking discussions on it be barred from parliament.

"That's all we had time to read,” a spokesperson for that party said.

The brouhaha inside the law-making body, however, fell far short of what was happening on the streets outside, where the country’s main labor unions had called a 48-hour strike to protest the new austerity measures.

By 6 p.m. local time, thousands had gathered in Syntagma Square, the now-iconic center of Greek protest movements, to rally against the deliberations. Doctors, pharmacists, municipal workers and journalists, who had remained working Tuesday, joined the strike. Even air traffic controllers conducted a four-hour work stoppage, paralyzing the nation’s airports.

Local media estimated from 60,000 to 100,000 people were packing the streets of Athens. Police were reportedly overwhelmed by the numbers, resorting to unplanned street closures and “preemptive detention” of protesters to pen in the crowd.

But protesters were adamant on making a point. "The measures just never stop. Every time, politicians say they are going to be the last measures ... they are never the last,” Melina Grigoriadou, a 50-year-old married businesswoman with two children, told CNN. "There is no end in this, there's no solution. The measures are awful -- it's not austerity, it's something even worse."

The vote on the measures was expected around midnight local time.

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