Greece transfers utilities to fund's control in bailout move
ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Amid street protests, Greece's parliament voted Tuesday night to transfer control of public utilities to a new asset fund created by international creditors.
Lawmakers approved the legislation in a 152-141 vote that Greece's lenders had required to release the next round of bailout loans from eurozone partners.
The new measure places the state-run power and water companies under the fund's control for 99 years. It will led by an official chosen by the creditors, while Greece's Finance Ministry will retain overall control.
"Next you'll sell the Acropolis!" hundreds of protesters, most of them water company workers, chanted outside parliament before the vote.
"They are handing over the nation's wealth and sovereignty," said George Sinioris, head of the water company workers association, as demonstrators waved black flags and blew whistles.
"We think this is a crime because it involves basic public services," he told The Associated Press, adding, "We will respond with court challenges, strikes, building occupations and other forms of protest."
The fund also is taking control of the state-owned subway operator in Athens, a military vehicle maker and a public property management fund.
Creditors argue that gathering assets under one umbrella will encourage privatization and smoother debt repayment.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' left-wing government has publicly vowed to keep major utilities under state control, and Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos repeated that pledge Tuesday.
"The Greek state remains the sole stakeholder of these assets," he told lawmakers. "Apart from privatization, there are other ways to gain value and we are concentrating on these other ways."
Opposition parties all voted against the bill.
Pressure from creditors has forced the Tsipras government to reverse a string of pledges made to recession-weary voters. It has maintained high taxes and ordered further cuts in pensions and benefits.
The national debt is expected to peak this year at above 180 percent of annual economic output, a level that the International Monetary Fund considers unsustainable.
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