HARI SREENIVASAN: Lawmakers in Greece endorsed new austerity measures today in the face of chaos in the streets of Athens. The $40 billion package of spending cuts and tax hikes is designed to win another round of bailout funding from the European Union and stave off default.
We have a report from Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: Several hours before today’s vote, the square in front of parliament descended into chaos, its protesters pelting everything they could at riot police.
In the backstreets, police reinforcements came under attack, a violent minority of protesters clearly out for trouble. But opinion polls suggest that 80 percent of Greeks oppose the tax rises and spending cuts which now threaten their livelihoods.
The Greek Parliament has come under enormous pressure to pass these austerity measures. The question now is whether this violence and civil disobedience will spread it as those austerity measures begin to bite.
The anger here is widespread — 800,000 Greeks have seen their public sector salaries cut by 10 percent in the last year.
WOMAN: They are selling practically the whole country to the IMF and (INAUDIBLE) the European bankers.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: But what’s the alternative?
WOMAN: Not to vote it, even if we go bankrupt.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: As the day war on, the pitched battles became even more intense, the mayhem symbolizing the struggle for Greece’s future at an epic moment.
Greeks watching at home could see their prime minister speaking inside parliament and pandemonium just beyond it. “We have to stop our country from collapsing,” Mr. Papandreou said, urging a yes to reforms. And this extraordinary admission: “The financial system,” he said, “is stronger than the will of the people.”
And for M.P.s barricaded inside, today’s vote was a bitter pill to swallow. One showed me the hate mail he had received from apoplectic constituents.
“The measures are unpopular,” he said, “but I am voting yes with a heavy heart for the country and for the unity of Europe.”
This Socialist refused to toe his governing party’s line, and he was the only one who dared vote no.
PANAGIOTIS KOUROUBLIS, Greek Socialist Party (through translator): Greece is being blackmailed by Europe over these measures. This is economic fascism, like Hitler. I feel betrayed by the other governments of Europe.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: Despite the anarchy on its doorstep, Greece’s Parliament was today effectively told by the prime minister that scenes like these will be child’s play if Greece doesn’t obey Europe’s orders.
“We either follow the path of change or the path of destruction,” he said.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The Parliament must vote tomorrow on a companion bill which implements the austerity plan.
In Egypt, riot police clashed with hundreds of youths in Cairo for a second day. Demonstrators threw rocks and firebombs as security forces used tear gas to disperse the crowds. Officials reported more than 1,000 people have been injured since the trouble started on Tuesday. The protesters are demanding speedier trials for police accused of brutality in the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak this year.
A court in Pakistan has indicted six paramilitary rangers and a civilian on charges of murdering an unarmed teenager. The killing was caught on this video broadcast on Pakistani TV. It showed officers shooting 17-year-old Sarfraz Shah at close range in a park in Karachi. Today’s indictment was a rare example of the Pakistani justice system taking on the country’s powerful security apparatus.
President Obama won an important legal victory today on his health care overhaul. A federal appeals court in Cincinnati ruled the government does have the right to mandate that Americans buy health insurance. A number of other legal challenges to the mandate are still working their way through the federal court system. The issue is expected to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
A wildfire in northern New Mexico kept growing today and raised new concerns about the Los Alamos nuclear lab. Fire crews battled erratic winds that have pushed the blaze across 108 square miles. And officials said they’re checking air quality in case flames reach the lab’s waste dumps and create toxic smoke.
CHARLES MCMILLAN, Los Alamos National Laboratory: I asked our teams to deploy our high-volume air monitors. We have had four of those out now. And we have an additional seven, I believe, that are going out in the next day or so. The reason the high-volume monitors are important is, they let us collect a lot of data very quickly, so that we can understand what’s happening, and, if we see changes, we will see them quickly.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The lab officials and fire managers said initial air samples showed no signs of contamination.
The owners of a West Virginia coal mine kept fake safety records before an explosion killed 29 men last year. The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration reported that today. It found that Massey Energy kept two sets of books on the Upper Big Branch mine. One included the mine’s safety violations, and one was sanitized to mislead inspectors. The agency said it referred the matter to federal prosecutors.
California’s latest budget crisis has eased for now. The state legislature approved an $86 billion budget last night, closing a deficit of nearly $10 billion. It passed with only Democratic votes, and included cuts to social services, parks and the state university system. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown tried and failed to win Republican support for tax increases.
Bank of America will pay $8.5 billion to settle claims that it sold bad securities based on subprime mortgages. Twenty-two major investors accused the firm of marketing securities that ended up losing all or most of their value in the housing meltdown. The settlement could prove a model for similar lawsuits against other banks. It’s subject to court approval.
Wall Street closed higher for a third straight day. The Dow Jones industrial average gained more than 72 points to close at 12,261. The Nasdaq rose 11 points to close at 27,40.
A protest by Saudi Arabian women demanding the right to drive has run into its first roadblock. An activist reported today that authorities detained at least five women who had been driving in Jeddah on the Red Sea coast. Police said only one woman was involved. A small group of Saudi women began challenging the bar against female drivers two weeks ago.
Those are some of the day’s major stories.