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german lawmakers approve greek rescue

Friday May 7, 2010    4:16 AM

BERLIN – German lawmakers on Friday approved the country's share of the rescue package for debt-laden Greece after a boisterous debate in which the finance minister told them they had no alternative to the unpopular measure.

The lower house of parliament voted 390-72, with 139 abstentions, to authorize granting as much as euro22.4 billion in credit over three years. That is part of a wider euro110 billion package backed by eurozone members and the International Monetary Fund

Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right governing coalition was joined by one of the three opposition parties in approving the aid. Germans dislike the idea of rescuing another country from its financial irresponsibility.

The upper house of parliament, which represents Germany's 16 states where Merkel's government also has a majority, was expected to add its approval later Friday.

We have to make this decision and we have no better alternative, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told lawmakers ahead of the vote. Any other alternative would be much more expensive for the Germans, would be much more dangerous, would carry much bigger risks.

Schaeuble said central bankers and the IMF agree it would be disastrous to risk ... a member of the European currency union, Greece, now becoming insolvent.

This is about defending the common European currency as a whole, and with it we are defending the European project, Schaeuble said.

The situation is very serious and no one can make out that we are already out of the woods with today's decision, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said. What is important now is that we must extinguish the fire so no brush fire spreads in Europe, and we must at the same time fight the cause of the fire.

Bailing out Greece is unpopular in Germany, which has Europe's biggest economy. Merkel long took a tough line on aid, and opponents have accused her of dragging her heels ahead of a regional election this weekend.

Sigmar Gabriel, the leader of the biggest opposition party, charged that Merkel had destroyed trust in the credibility of Germany's European policy.

Gabriel's Social Democrats abstained. They had hoped to couple the vote with a call for a tax on financial market transactions — which Schaeuble described as unrealistic, given a lack of international support.

The Greens, also in opposition, voted in favor. But the hard-left Left Party objected to the rescue package on the grounds it would make things worse for Greece.

Left Party lawmaker Gesine Loetzsch described the austerity package to be implemented in Greece as brutal and accused German leaders of doing too little to control markets.

Speculators are Taliban in pinstripes, and people in our country must be protected from these Taliban, Loetzsch said — a remark that drew a rebuke from speaker Norbert Lammert.

Associated Press writer Verena Schmitt-Roschmann contributed to this report.