* Greek parliament passes unpopular package of cuts
* National hero says Greeks are rising up
* Petrol bombs create wall of fire
* Budget cuts to total 3.3 billion euros ($4.35 bln
By Harry Papachristou and Yannis Behrakis
ATHENS, Feb 13 The Greek parliament
approved a deeply unpopular austerity bill to secure a second
EU/IMF bailout and avoid national bankruptcy, as buildings
burned across central Athens and violence spread around the
Cinemas, cafes, shops and banks were set ablaze in central
Athens as black-masked protesters fought riot police outside
State television reported the violence spread to the tourist
islands of Corfu and Crete, the northern city of Thessaloniki
and towns in central Greece. Shops were looted in the capital
where police said 34 buildings were ablaze.
Prime Minister Lucas Papademos denounced the worst breakdown
of order since 2008 when violence gripped Greece for weeks after
police shot a 15-year-old schoolboy.
"Vandalism, violence and destruction have no place in a
democratic country and won't be tolerated," he told parliament
as it prepared to vote on the new 130 billion euro bailout to
save Greece from a chaotic bankruptcy.
Papademos told lawmakers shortly before they voted that they
would be gravely mistaken if they rejected the package that
demands deep pay, pension and job cuts, as this would threaten
Greece's place in the European mainstream.
"It would be a huge historical injustice if the country from
which European culture sprang ... reached bankruptcy and was
led, due to one more mistake, to national isolation and national
despair," he said.
The chaos outside parliament showed how tough it will be to
implement the measures. A Reuters photographer saw buildings in
Athens engulfed in flames and huge plumes of smoke rose in the
"We are facing destruction. Our country, our home, has
become ripe for burning, the centre of Athens is in flames. We
cannot allow populism to burn our country down," conservative
lawmaker Costis Hatzidakis told parliament.
The air in Syntagma Square outside parliament was thick with
tear gas as riot police fought running battles with youths who
smashed marble balustrades and hurled stones and petrol bombs.
Terrified Greeks and tourists fled the rock-strewn streets
and the clouds of stinging gas, cramming into hotel lobbies for
shelter as lines of riot police struggled to contain the mayhem.
State NET television reported that trouble had also broken
out in Heraklion, capital of Crete, as well as the towns of
Volos and Agrinio in central Greece.
On the streets many businesses were ablaze, including the
neo-classical home to the Attikon cinema dating from 1870 and a
building housing the Asty, an underground cinema used by the
Gestapo during World War Two as a torture chamber.
As fighting raged for hours, protesters threw bombs made
from gas canisters as riot police advanced across the square on
the crowds, firing tear gas and stun grenades. Loud booms from
the protests could be heard inside parliament.
NO GOOD CHOICES
Before the vote, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos told
parliament that the alternative to the international bailout -
bankruptcy and a departure from the euro zone - would be far
worse for Greeks.
"The choice is not between sacrifice and no sacrifices at
all, but between sacrifices and unimaginably harsher ones," he
told a stormy debate expected to run well into the night.
Greece needs the international funds before March 20 to meet
debt repayments of 14.5 billion euros, or suffer a chaotic
default which could shake the entire euro zone.
The EU and IMF say they have had enough of broken promises
and that the funds will be released only with the clear
commitment of Greek political leaders that they will implement
the reforms whoever wins an election potentially in April.
Euro zone paymaster Germany ratcheted up the pressure on
Sunday. "The promises from Greece aren't enough for us any
more," German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in an
interview published on Sunday in Welt am Sonntag newspaper.
"Greece needs to do its own homework to become competitive,
whether that happens in conjunction with a new rescue programme
or by another route that we actually don't want to take," he
When asked if that other route meant Greece quitting the
euro zone, Schaeuble said: "That is all in the hands of the
Greeks themselves. But even in the event (Greece leaves the euro
zone), which almost no one assumes will happen, they will still
remain part of Europe."
The bill sets out 3.3 billion euros ($4.35 billion) in wage,
pension and job cuts for this year alone.
It also provides for a bond swap to ease Greece's debt
burden by cutting the real value of private-sector investors'
bond holdings by some 70 percent. Greece would have missed a
Feb. 17 deadline to offer a debt "haircut" to private
bondholders if the vote had not been passed.