Greek lawmakers were locked in a fierce debate Wednesday ahead of a vote on a new austerity package needed to unlock international aid and stave off imminent bankruptcy in the face of fresh social unrest.
A general strike crippled Athens for a second straight day, while Greeks planned to mass outside parliament to voice their opposition to billions of euros in further sacrifices as the country heads for its sixth year in recession.
With Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's government facing its biggest crisis since taking office in June, lawmakers were due to hold a late-night vote on the 18.5-billion-euro ($23.6-billion) round of spending cuts and other reforms by 2016.
Implementing the austerity plan is a condition for Greece to receive a 31.5-billion-euro tranche of bailout funds from its international creditors -- the European Union, International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank.
Without it, Greece risks running out of money on November 16, when a debt repayment falls due.
Lawmakers were battling over the draft in a fiery parliament session that was interrupted by a motion from the main opposition Syriza and nationalist party Greek Independents challenging the vote.
"This draft law will extend the country's recession and the emergency procedure (for a vote) is against the constitution," Alexis Tsipras, who heads the far-left Syriza party, said before the motion was rejected.
Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras had on Tuesday implored lawmakers to vote for the package, particularly the reluctant members of the governing coalition."The country needs to implement a package of measures in order to eradicate the threat of bankruptcy for good," he said. "We are at the final, crucial crossroads and we have to make the right decision, otherwise our progress so far will be forever diminished."
Despite the country approaching bankruptcy and a euro exit possible once again, many Greeks are angry at repeatedly having to tighten their belts. Observers nevertheless expect parliament will eventually pass the proposals.
The mass-selling Ta Nea newspaper branded the new austerity cuts as "poisonous", but said: "Even if they are painful, they are vital for the country to emerge from recession and kickstart the economy."
Public transport in Athens was out of service for a second day, although the metro is expected to run in the afternoon to ferry protesters into the city centre.
Pharmacies were closed and rubbish collectors joined other civil servants including post office and museum workers on the strike, leaving the streets of Athens littered with trash bags.
Dimitris Tsikerdis, 35, an IT contract worker and Syriza voter, said he believed the legislation will pass.
But he said he will join Wednesday's protest even if demonstrations "have changed nothing in Greece, not even the results of our elections" in June which brought the Samaras government to power.
Tens of thousands of people had turned out in Athens and the northern city of Thessaloniki on Tuesday to protest the latest measures. Another demonstration was due to take place Wednesday from 1500 GMT outside parliament.
"No to measures of impoverishment" and "The people above everything else -- not numbers and measures," protesters chanted in Athens.
"The people came here today to protest against the measures that bring us back centuries. They are abolishing our rights, and depriving our children's future," teacher Thanassis Pargas said at the Athens rally.
The measures under discussion include a rise in the retirement age to 67 from the current 65, and cuts of five to 10 percent in pensions of more than 1,000 euros a month.
Civil servants' 13th and 14th month pay would be scrapped, and further salary cuts imposed on academics, hospital doctors, judges, diplomats and members of the armed forces.
"These measures essentially bring us many years back. All the labour rights the Greek people won post-World War II and post-dictatorship are taken back," union activist Marie Lavrentiadou said.
"The measures will be voted in, but the measures are not voted in the conscience of the Greek people and they can be ousted," she said.
The government however has warned that the country has no choice but to adopt the measures if Greece wants to stay solvent and in the eurozone.
Eurozone creditors are due to make a decision on the bailout funds -- part of a massive rescue package for Greece -- at meeting of finance ministers on Monday.
One glimmer of hope emerged Wednesday, when the European Commission forecast that Greece would come out of recession in 2014.
The Commission's forecasts said Athens would be witness 0.6-percent growth in 2014, with the economy having shrunk by around a fifth since the economic crisis first broke.