Greek lawmakers discuss bailout bill in parliament

ATHENS, Greece - Greek lawmakers were discussing the country's critical third bailout Thursday with the goal of voting on it before a eurozone finance ministers' meeting Friday.

The discussions were at parliamentary committee level before a full assembly debate later.

The draft bill for the three-year, roughly 85 billion euro ($93 billion) bailout includes harsh spending cuts and tax hikes that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has said he has no option but to implement. His radical left Syriza party won January elections on promises of repealing similar austerity imposed in return for Greece's previous bailouts.

The terms have left Tsipras battling severe dissent from within his party, although the bill is expected to pass with votes from opposition parties. The committee discussion, which began more than an hour late, will determine the exact timing of the evening session.

Anti-austerity demonstrations were planned outside parliament for Thursday evening, when the full assembly is expected to be discussing the bill.

The terms of the bailout were agreed earlier in the week with representatives of Greece's creditors at the European Central Bank, European Commission and International Monetary Fund and come after months of acrimonious wrangling and failed negotiations that have cost the Greek economy dearly.

Once passed by Greek parliament, the deal will need to be signed off by the 19 eurozone finance ministers, known as the Eurogroup, who are set to meet on Friday afternoon. It also requires approval from several other eurozone parliaments, including Germany's, before any funds can be disbursed.

Germany, who was the largest single contributor to Greece's two previous bailouts, has been the country's harshest critic and has so far maintained a cautious stance regarding the new bailout agreement.

Greece desperately needs funds before Aug. 20, when it faces a large debt repayment to the European Central Bank - stemming from its first bailout - that it cannot afford to repay. It has resisted suggestions of receiving an interim loan to tide it over, insisting it wants to proceed with the full deal.

Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos stressed the urgency of the situation and urged fellow lawmakers to vote in favour of the debate being held under emergency procedures that allow a bill to be fast-tracked in a one-day discussion.

"If tomorrow there is no agreement in the Eurogroup ... we will have to go to a bridge loan. Those who want to risk this can vote against" the fast-track procedure, he said as the committee discussions began.

Under the emergency procedures, the bill is expected to be debated in the assembly Thursday evening, with a vote held at midnight or later.