* Greek lawmakers pass bill on PPC
* Hundreds of workers protest outside parliament
* State workers begin 24-hour strike against public-sector
(Recasts with parliament vote on PPC)
By Karolina Tagaris
ATHENS, July 9 Greece approved a reform bill on
Wednesday that paves the way for the sale of nearly a third of
its biggest power producer, in a move protested by workers and
the main opposition, who want the Public Power Corp to
remain in state hands.
The plan to privatise PPC is part of Greece's efforts to
liberalise its energy market, one of the conditions demanded by
its European Union and IMF creditors before they disburse the
next tranche under Greece's 240 billion-euro bailout.
Hundreds marched to parliament late on Wednesday as
lawmakers inside prepared to vote, unfolding banners which read:
"We're not selling it" and "We will resist".
Striking electricity workers caused brief power outages
across the country in the middle of its tourism season last week
before the government took legal action and forced them back to
Athens has been planning for years to transfer part of the
company, which is 51 percent state-held, to rivals, aiming to
spur competition in its ailing electricity industry.
On Wednesday, Energy Minister Yannis Maniatis defended the
plan as "one of the biggest reforms that has been discussed in
our parliament over the last years."
"I believe it is for the benefit of our national economy, of
Greek society, of our country," Maniatis told lawmakers before
calling on them to back the bill, which allows Greece to spin
off 30 percent of the power utility next year.
PPC generates about two-thirds of Greece's electricity
output and controls almost 100 percent of the retail market. Its
annual sales are about 6 billion euros.
It is also one of the world's biggest miners of lignite, a
soft, brown coal seen as a heavy polluter.
The opposition and labour unions have opposed the plan,
arguing it would lead to higher tariffs for Greeks struggling to
make ends meet and fewer jobs.
"Electricity is a public good, not a commodity to be sold
off cheap, and those who do so must be held accountable to
society," public-sector union GSEE, which joined the rally, said
in a statement on Wednesday. "The fight against the
privatization of PPC is a long one and it will not end even
after the bill in question is passed."
A total of 51 lawmakers of 98 present during parliament's
summer session voted in favour of the bill and 46 against. One
The passage of the bill coincided with the start of a visit
to Athens by inspectors from the International Monetary Fund,
the European Union and European Central Bank - the so-called
'troika' of lenders demanding austerity.
The inspectors, who are in Athens to check on Greece's
progress under the bailout programme, are due to meet newly
appointed Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis on Thursday.
Earlier, Greek state doctors, school guards and prison staff
marched to parliament at the start of a 24-hour strike by
public-sector workers against firings imposed as part of the
Greek labour unions have fiercely resisted government plans
to shrink the 600,000-strong civil service through layoffs or
transfers of workers. They fear the measures will further worsen
the plight of Greeks struggling through a six-year recession.
Greece is beginning to emerge from its protracted recession,
but anti-austerity sentiment remains high. Repeated rounds of
spending cuts and tax hikes since its rescue from bankruptcy in
2010 have driven up unemployment and homelessness and eroded
"Everyone must come out onto the streets to help get rid of
them (the government)," Evangelia Alexaki, an unemployed
cleaner, said from the rally. "It's time for them to go - if
they don't leave, we are lost."
(Additional reporting by Gina Kalovyrna; Editing by Larry King)