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AUSTRIA: Lawmakers approve expanded bailout fund

September 30, 2011 |  6:00 am

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REPORTING FROM LONDON -– After fierce debate, lawmakers in Austria gave the green light Friday to a beefed-up rescue fund for Europe’s debt-ridden countries, a move seen as imperative to fighting the crisis over the euro.

The vote in Vienna came a day after Germany overwhelmingly backed the plan and two days after the Finnish parliament ratified it. In all three nations, government leaders have had to battle public hostility toward extending more aid to neighbors such as Greece and Portugal, which have required international bailouts to pay their bills after years of overspending.

A handful of countries within the Eurozone have yet to vote on the measure, which requires the approval of all 17 national parliaments to go into effect. The plan would also give the fund expanded powers to recapitalize banks and buy the bonds of countries in financial straits.

Opposition to strengthening the $600-billion bailout fund was vociferous inside the Austrian parliament, where right-wing parties denounced it as a reward for fiscally reckless countries.

At one point, debate had to be suspended because heckling lawmakers drowned out the Austrian finance minister as she tried to address the chamber, news reports said. Photos also showed some lawmakers holding up a banner demanding a “referendum now” on the bailout fund and declaring that Austria had “paid enough” to help troubled Eurozone nations.

Still, the final vote was a comfortable win for the government.

Attention now turns to the Netherlands, which is expected to take up the measure next week, and Slovakia, where a vote is due later in October and where there are worrisome signs that lawmakers may torpedo the plan.

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Photo: Members of the Austrian Parliament vote on the bailout fund. Credit: Herwig Prammer, Reuters

-- Henry Chu

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