As the parliament in Athens began a debate over Socialist austerity plan proposals, Greeks renewed their protests against the planned cuts. Unions are also planning a 48-hour strike.
Papandreou has struggled to unite his party over the austerity measures
The Greek parliament has begun debating an austerity package put together by the government of Prime Minister George Papandreou as Greeks took to the streets to protest the proposals.
The austerity plan calls for 28 billion euros ($40 billion) in tax hikes and spending cuts, as well as some 50 million euros worth of privatizations.
The Greek defense minister, Panos Beglitis, has warned of a "catastrophe" if parliamentary approval for the package is not secured. Nevertheless, he has made assurances that the austerity plan will pass.
The proposals have been deeply unpopular amongst Greeks
"There are concerns, there is anguish, but above all there is common ground among PASOK's parliamentary group to assume a common responsibility," said Beglitis, referring to the ruling Socialist party.
Prime Minister George Papandreou will have to rely on a slim parliamentary majority to push through the plan, as he has failed to secure the support of the main opposition New Democracy party as well as several members of his own party.
The proposals have caused a significant drop in support for the Papandreou government, forcing him to reshuffle his cabinet earlier this month. Giant banners calling for a "counterattack" against the cuts were hung from the city's iconic Parthenon, framing a protest organized by the communist trade union Pame.
With messages written in Greek and English, the banners read, "The people have the power and never surrender. Organize counterattack."
European leaders have pressured Greece to approve the austerity plans
According to Christos Katzotis, one of the protest organizers, at least 150 activists entered the site and put up the banners at the foot of the Parthenon before it was opened to the public.
Unions are expected to hold a 48-hour strike from Tuesday to oppose the package, which parliament will vote on later this week.
Greece, which has debts of some 350 billion euros, is seeking a second bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund (IMF) worth more than 100 billion euros.
In return, the EU and IMF have demanded that Greece approve and implement further austerity measures to ward off the threat of bankruptcy.
But time is of the essence, as Athens needs the next 12-billion-euro loan installment to pay its bills in July and avoid the eurozone's first sovereign default.
Author: Charlotte Chelsom-Pill, Darren Mara (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Michael Lawton