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German Gov't OKs Greece Bailout Plan   02/27 06:27

   BERLIN (AP) -- Germany's Parliament overwhelmingly approved the four-month 
extension of Greece's financial bailout on Friday, despite unease over the new 
government in Athens.

   Lawmakers voted 542-32 to back the bailout extension. There were 13 
abstentions.

   Greece was granted the extension by its European creditors in exchange for a 
commitment to budget reforms. Germany is among the countries that needed to 
approve the deal in its national parliament.

   "This is not about new billions for Greece, not about changing this 
program," Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble assured Parliament ahead of the 
vote. "It's about providing additional time to complete this program 
successfully."

   Comments by Greek officials casting doubt on privatization deals and raising 
the possibility of further debt relief had irked some in Germany in the run-up 
to the vote.

   Schaeuble said that "we Germans should do everything to keep Europe together 
and bring it together, as far as we can."

   Germany, a key creditor nation, has been among the strongest advocates of 
unpopular spending cuts and insists aid must come with strings attached.

   Schaeuble told lawmakers that the eurozone is on the right track. "We must 
stick to this course and we must say to our colleagues in Greece that, with all 
respect for voters' decision in Greece, Greece alone cannot decide in Europe 
what the right path is."

   Left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who led the winning party in Jan. 
25 elections, promised to scrap bailout agreements and supervision, and demand 
a massive write-down of Greece's 240 billion-euro ($272 billion) bailout debt.

   However, his government has backed off key demands and secured a bailout 
extension by pledging a series of policy measures including adherence to 
certain reforms.

   A minority of lawmakers in Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc has 
consistently voted against bailouts for European strugglers. Still, Merkel's 
current coalition with the center-left Social Democrats holds four-fifths of 
the parliamentary seats and, with opposition support as well, approval for the 
bailout extension always looked assured.

   "If you're not traveling in the right direction, there's no point in always 
speeding up --- you just get further from your destination," said Klaus-Peter 
Willsch, a lawmaker from Merkel's Christian Democrats and a serial rebel in 
bailout votes.

   He pointed to the possibility of a further bailout package for Greece this 
summer, which Schaeuble didn't mention, and said that "it will never end."

   Andreas Scheuer, a senior conservative who backed extending the current 
bailout, said that "this is one of the last chances we are giving Greece."

   "We will have to rely on the Greek government delivering now," he said.

   In Greece, it was still unclear whether the government would take the 
extension deal to Parliament or seek to have it ratified by legislative decree. 
Tsipras has faced dissent within his Syriza party over the agreement, which 
some have criticized as being too big a concession.

   The conservative opposition New Democracy party insisted on a vote.

   "It is not possible for other European parliaments to be voting on the 
extension of aid to Greece and the Greek parliament to be denied that right 
because Syriza is afraid of its lawmakers," New Democracy spokesman Kostas 
Karagounis said, adding that his party would support the deal.


(KA)


 
 
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