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EU releases $3.7b in loans to Greece

Parliament OK’s cutting 15,000 civil service jobs

Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras (left) listened as Alexis Tsipras, leader of the Radical Left Coalition, spoke in parliament in Athens on Sunday.

EPA/SIMELA

Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras (left) listened as Alexis Tsipras, leader of the Radical Left Coalition, spoke in parliament in Athens on Sunday.

ATHENS — Eurozone officials on Monday approved the release of $3.7 billion in loans to Greece, the country’s Finance Ministry said, paving the way for the approval of an additional $7.9 billion installment at a meeting of the currency union’s finance ministers in mid-May.

The Greek Parliament late Sunday approved a controversial plan to dismiss 15,000 civil servants by the end of next year as part of a new package of economic measures asked for by Greece’s foreign creditors: the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission.

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The $3.7 billion approved Monday in Brussels was originally to have been disbursed in March but was delayed after negotiations stalled over the creditors’ demands for civil service cuts. The May installment is dependent on further action by Athens, including an overhaul of the tax collection system.

The Greek government’s latest measures passed in a vote held shortly before midnight with 168 votes in the 300-seat House.

A last-minute amendment allowing local authorities to hire young Greeks for less than the minimum wage of $767 a month fueled angry protests by the political opposition. But the inclusion of measures intended to ease some of the financial burden on homeowners, including a 15 percent reduction in a new property tax, clinched the support of lawmakers in the three-party ruling coalition.

Defending the bill, the finance minister, Yannis Stournaras, insisted that there was no choice. ‘‘Greece is still cut off from the markets,’’ he told lawmakers, adding that the government’s chief aim was to achieve a primary surplus before seeking a further ‘‘drastic’’ reduction of its debt, which at the end of last year was 160 percent of gross domestic product.

His claims were derided by the opposition. ‘‘With blood, tears, and looting, they will achieve surpluses like those achieved by Ceausescu in Romania and Pinochet in Chile,’’ said Alexis Tsipras, leader of the main leftist opposition party, Syriza, which wants Greece to revoke its agreement with the troika.

“Claim back your lives and your country that they are stealing,’’ he said as a few hundred people, mostly civil servants, staged a low-key protest outside Parliament.

In the last three years, Greece’s citizens have seen their incomes dwindle by a third and unemployment skyrocket to 27 percent.

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