Lucas Papademos

Protesters pass by a burning cinema in Athens on Sunday. Riots engulfed central Athens as lawmakers voted on austerity measures.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece — Greek lawmakers on Monday approved harsh new austerity measures demanded by bailout creditors to save the debt-crippled nation from bankruptcy, after rioters in central Athens torched buildings, looted shops and clashed with riot police.

The historic vote paves the way for Greece’s European partners and the International Monetary Fund to release $170 billion in new rescue loans, without which Greece would default on its mountain of debt next month and likely leave the eurozone — a scenario that would further roil global markets.

Lawmakers voted 199-74 in favor of the cutbacks, despite strong dissent among the two main coalition members. A total 37 lawmakers from the majority Socialists and conservative New Democracy party either voted against the party line, abstained or voted present.

Sunday’s clashes erupted after more than 100,000 protesters marched to the parliament to rally against the drastic cuts, which will ax one in five civil service jobs and slash the minimum wage by more than a fifth.

At least 45 businesses were damaged by fire, including several historic buildings, movie theaters, banks and a cafeteria, in the worst riot damage in Athens in years. Fifty police officers were injured and at least 55 protesters were hospitalized. Forty-five suspected rioters were arrested and a further 40 detained.

As the vote got under way early Monday, Prime Minister Lucas Papademos urged calm, pointing to the country’s dire financial straits.

“Vandalism and destruction have no place in a democracy and will not be tolerated,” Papademos told Parliament. “I call on the public to show calm. At these crucial times, we do not have the luxury of this type of protest. I think everyone is aware of how serious the situation is.”

Since May 2010, Greece has survived on a $145 billion bailout from its European partners and the International Monetary Fund. When that proved insufficient, the new rescue package was approved. The deal, which has not yet been finalized, will be combined with a massive bond swap deal to write off half the country’s privately held debt.

But for both deals to materialize, Greece had to persuade its deeply skeptical creditors that it has the will to implement spending cuts and public sector reforms that will end years of fiscal profligacy and tame gaping budget deficits.

As protests raged Sunday, demonstrators set bonfires in front of parliament and dozens of riot police formed lines to keep them from making a run on the building. Security forces fired dozens of tear gas volleys at rioters, who attacked them with firebombs and chunks of marble broken off the fronts of luxury hotels, banks and department stores.

Clouds of tear gas drifted across the square, and many in the crowd wore gas masks or had their faces covered, while others carried Greek flags and banners. Masked rioters also attacked a police station with petrol bombs and stones.

A three-story building was completely consumed by flames as firefighters struggled to douse the blaze. Streets were strewn with stones, smashed glass and burnt wreckage, while terrified passers-by sought refuge in hotel lounges and cafeterias.

“I’ve had it! I can’t take it any more. There’s no point in living in this country any more,” said a distraught shop owner walking through his smashed and looted optician store.

Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis said rioters tried to storm the City Hall building, but were repelled. “Once again, the city is being used as a lever to try to destabilize the country,” he said.

Conservative New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras said the rioting “hurts the entire country.”

“We are seeing scenes from a future that we must do our utmost to avert,” he said.

Papademos’ government — an unlikely coalition of the majority Socialists and their main foes, New Democracy — had been expected to carry the austerity vote. Combined, they control 236 of Parliament’s 300 seats.

Still, they faced strong dissent: Besides the 37 lawmakers who voted against the bill or abstained, a further six voted against sections of the proposed measures. After the vote, the coalition government announced those 43 lawmakers had been expelled.

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said the measures were vital to the country’s very economic survival.

“The question is not whether some salaries and pensions will be curtailed, but whether we will be able to pay even these reduced wages and pensions,” he told lawmakers before the vote. “When you have to choose between bad and worse, you will pick what is bad to avoid what is worse.”

The new cutbacks, which follow two years of harsh income losses and tax hikes amid a deep recession and record high unemployment have been demanded by Greece’s bailout creditors in return for a new batch of vital rescue loans.

Greece’s eurozone partners, meanwhile, kept up the pressure for real reform.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble was quoted as telling the Welt am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday that Greece “cannot be a bottomless pit.”

Highlighting previous pledges he said weren’t kept, Schaeuble said “that is why Greece’s promises aren’t enough for us any more.”

Asked whether Greece has a long-term future in the eurozone, Germany’s Vice Chancellor Philip Roesler said “that is now in the hands of the Greeks alone.”

“It is not enough just to give financial aid — they must tackle the second cause of the crisis, the lack of economic competitiveness,” he told said ARD television. “For that, they need ... massive structural reforms. Otherwise Greece will not get out of the crisis.”

Introducing the legislation Sunday, Socialist lawmaker Sofia Yiannaka said the intense pressure from Greece’s EU partners to pass the measures was the result of delays in implementing already agreed reforms.

“The delays have our imprint. We should not blame foreigners for them,” she said. “We have finally found out that you have to pay back what you have borrowed.”

LONDON (AP) — Markets were in a cautious mood on Monday as talks dragged on between Greek political leaders over a fresh austerity package that is required if the debt-ridden country is to get a crucial bailout package.

Even though another round of deadlines have passed, the prevailing mood in the markets is that Greece will get a debt-reduction deal with its private creditors as well as a second bailout from its partners in the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund.

However, as one deadline after another is missed, some traders are preparing for the worst — a disorderly debt default that could send shockwaves round the global economy.

The leaders of the parties backing Greece’s coalition government, which is headed by Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, were to hold a second day of emergency talks over austerity measures that rescue creditors are demanding in return for more money. The talks, however, were postponed until Tuesday despite pressure from the European Union for a speedy agreement so that the country can avoid a default on its debt.

Greek politicians are balking at the level of austerity demanded by the country’s bailout lenders. The three party leaders have publicly opposed steep cuts in public sector pay demanded by the eurozone and International Monetary Fund, but their backing is needed for the government to reach a deal for a euro130 billion ($170 billion) bailout.

“While we still believe that a voluntary Greek debt restructuring deal and further EU aid will be forthcoming, the risks of a more disruptive scenario have probably increased,” said Vassili Serebriakov, an analyst at Wells Fargo Bank.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares closed down 0.2 percent at 5,892.20 while Germany’s DAX was flat at 6,764.83. The CAC-40 in France ended 0.6 percent lower at 3,405.27.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 0.3 percent at 12,822.38 while the broader Standard & Poor’s 500 index was 0.2 percent lower at 1,341.82.

So far this year, the mood in markets has been particularly upbeat, especially compared with the febrile trading that marked 2011. Stocks have rallied — many indexes are at their highest levels in months — while the cost of borrowing for key euro countries, such as Italy and Spain, has eased to levels that are considered sustainable in the long-run.

One of the reasons behind the change in tone has been optimism that Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, who is due to meet with negotiators from the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund later Monday, will secure the second bailout.

The euro130 billion ($171 billion) bailout deal is vital for Greece to avoid bankruptcy next month as it cannot cover a euro14.5 billion ($19.1 billion) bond repayment due March 20 without the rescue funds.

The bailout’s implementation also depends on Greece’s progress in separate talks with banks and other private bondholders to forgive euro100 billion ($131.6 billion) in Greek debt, in exchange for a cash payment and new bonds with more lenient repayment terms.

Another key prop to the improvement in market sentiment this year has been a run of solid economic data out of the U.S., which has prompted some analysts to revise up their expectations for growth in the world’s largest economy. The improving trend was evident last Friday, when government figures showed the U.S. economy generated a bigger than expected 243,000 jobs in January, pushing the unemployment rate down to 8.3 percent.

The euro was under pressure as investors awaited developments in Athens — the currency was trading 0.1 percent lower at $1.3109.

Oil prices tracked the broader market trends Monday, with benchmark oil for March delivery down 58 cents at $97.26 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Greece will likely remain the focal point over the week, though a raft of corporate earnings, particularly in Europe, and central bank meetings could garner some interest. The European Central Bank’s monthly policy meeting on Thursday could be crucial in determining market expectations of whether there will be further interest rate reductions. Meanwhile, many traders think the Bank of England will clear the way to inject more money into the U.K. economy in the hope of boosting lending.

Earlier Asian shares mostly traded higher as investors there had their first chance to respond to join in the advance generated by Friday’s upbeat jobs data.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 index rose 1.1 percent to close at 8,929.20, its highest closing in more than three months but Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 0.2 percent to 20,709.94. Benchmarks in Singapore and mainland China also rose.

ATHENS, Greece — Europe’s financial crisis eased Thursday as Greece installed a respected economist to replace its prime minister and Italy appeared poised to do the same — both hoping that monetary experts can do better than the politicians who drove their nations so deeply into debt.

The announcement in Athens — coupled with the prospect that volatile Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will be ushered out soon — quieted market fears, at least for now, that turmoil in Europe could threaten the global economy.

But significant challenges remain in both debt-heavy Mediterranean countries.

Greece’s new prime minister, Lucas Papademos, a former vice president of the European Central Bank, must quickly secure the crucial loan installment without which his country will go bankrupt before Christmas, and approve the EU’s $177 billion bailout deal.

In Italy, lawmakers have to pass new austerity measures over the next few days. However, expectations that respected economist Mario Monti will lead an interim technocratic government after Berlusconi goes helped lift the gloom.

Monti, 68, now heads Milan’s Bocconi University, but he made his reputation as the European Union competition commissioner who blocked General Electric’s takeover of Honeywell.

Still, the European Union warned that the 17-nation eurozone could slip back into “a deep and prolonged” recession next year amid the debt crisis. The European Commission predicted the eurozone will grow a pallid 0.5 percent in 2012 — much less than its earlier forecast of 1.8 percent.

Europe has already bailed out Greece, Portugal and Ireland — but together they make up only about 6 percent of the eurozone’s economic output, in contrast to Italy’s 17 percent. Italy, the eurozone’s third-largest economy, is considered too big for Europe to bail out. It has a mountain of debt — $2.6 trillion — and a substantial portion of that needs to be refinanced in the next few years.

The 64-year-old Papademos, who also served as Bank of Greece governor, will lead a government backed by both Greece’s governing Socialists and the opposition conservatives until early elections, tentatively set for February.

Many Greeks are angry after 20 months of government austerity measures, including repeated salary and pension cuts and tax hikes to meet the conditions of the country’s first bailout. Despite the belt-tightening, the Socialist government repeatedly missed its financial targets as Greece fell into a deep recession, amid rapidly rising unemployment.

Papademos’ appointment followed 10 days of political turmoil triggered by Papandreou’s shock announcement that he wanted to put the latest European bailout deal to a referendum. Fears that the agreement would be defeated led to mayhem on international markets and angered both European leaders and his own Socialist lawmakers.