Parliament moves ahead with debate on reform bill

Associated Press
A protester holds a banner during a protest from the confederation of Professionals, Craftsmen and Merchants against a new austerity bill that will be discussed in Parliament, in Athens on Sunday, March 30 2014. The measures demanded by bailout lenders will be voted on late Sunday, and would liberalize several retail sectors. They include plans to grant supermarkets permission to set up in-store pharmacies, scrap price limits on books and allow a longer shelf-life for milk. (AP Photo/Kostas Tsironis)
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ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The Greek parliament speaker ruled Sunday that the main opposition party's motion of no-confidence in Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras is inadmissible, ensuring that debate on a bill introducing market reforms agreed with the country's lenders can continue.

Under parliamentary rules, debate on the motion would have taken precedence over any other item on the agenda. Debate on the bill will now go on until midnight Sunday, and a vote will follow.

The opposition Radical Left Coalition, known by its Greek acronym SYRIZA, opposes the reforms contained in the bill, which notably opens up several retail sectors to more competition. The party also accuses the government of trying to ram through, using an emergency debate procedure, a bill running into hundreds of pages without proper debate and adding clauses that would favor banks and certain businessmen.

Speaker Evangelos Meimarakis based his ruling on Greece's constitution, which says six months must elapse between two motions of no-confidence in the government. He said SYRIZA's motion against a minister implementing the government's policy amounts to one against the government since it does not touch on the minister's personal conduct.

Following the speaker's ruling, SYRIZA's lawmakers left the debate and its leader, Alexis Tsipras, tabled a motion of no-confidence in the speaker. Debate on that motion does not take precedence over the current debate on the bill and will take place either Monday or Friday next week.

SYRIZA's motion against the finance minister was backed by most opposition parties except for Democratic Left, which spent a year in government with the conservative New Democracy and the socialist PASOK parties before leaving last summer over policy differences.

The government wants to have the bill approved before an informal meeting of EU finance ministers and central bankers in Athens next Tuesday and Wednesday. Greece holds the EU's rotating 6-month presidency.

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