ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek lawmakers have approved a controversial Christmas bonus payment for low-earning pensioners that prompted bailout creditors to suspend a debt relief deal agreed upon only last week.
The left-led government insisted again Thursday that it's not doing anything that goes against the terms of its bailout deal with creditors and that it's exercising its sovereign right in providing the handout which will be funded by budget savings.
But European creditors say Athens should have sought clearance first, and on Wednesday froze the short-term debt relief deal that includes a smoothing of some of Greece's repayments to prevent debt humps and a waiving of an interest rate increase.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was due to raise the issue with other European Union leaders during a summit meeting in Brussels Thursday.
The article on the bonus, which Athens wants to distribute next week, was approved by 196 votes, while 61 lawmakers from the main opposition conservative party abstained.
Tsipras had requested a ballot by roll-call, a lengthy procedure in which lawmakers are called by name to vote, in a bid to pressure opposition lawmakers whom the government accuses of siding with bailout creditors.
Later this month, parliament will also vote on another Tsipras pledge to restore a lower sales tax rate for Aegean Sea islanders who are struggling to cope with mass arrivals of migrants from Turkey.
Hurt by a series of income cuts and tax hikes, Tsipras' Syriza party is trailing the conservatives by more than ten percentage points in opinion polls.
As lawmakers prepared to vote in Athens, some 5,000 pensioners marched peacefully to Tsipras' office to protest years of cuts to their pensions under the country's bailout commitments.
Protesters said the bonus granted to people receiving up to 850 euros (US$885) a month was too small.
Efstathios Bozos said it's "just a tip" that does little to compensate for a 50 percent reduction in pensions over recent years.
"We want our pensions restored to their previous level," he said.
Greece has imposed income reductions, tax hikes and wide-ranging reforms since 2010 to secure a series of rescue loans that have prevented the country's bankruptcy and exit from the euro currency.