ATHENS Greece's parliament on Saturday approved a bill providing health insurance to vulnerable citizens and offering municipality jobs for the unemployed as the left-led government tries to mitigate the impact of bailout austerity measures on the poor.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who made a U-turn on promises to end austerity and was forced to sign up to a new bailout last summer, was re-elected in September on pledges to implement the EU/IMF prescribed reforms.
The package of social justice measures is meant to appease critics who say the reforms parliament was forced to adopt under Greece's third bailout programme are too tough.
Thousands of Greeks took to the streets in February to protest a planned pension reform which increases social security contributions and phases out benefits for low income pensioners.
The plan affects mainly self-employed professionals and farmers, who have been blockading roads and border crossings in protest for weeks.
The leftist government was forced to withdraw an initial "humanitarian crisis" bill from parliament in December, after its international lenders, also known in Athens as the EU/IMF quartet, threatened to withhold bailout funds in protest at not having been properly consulted.
Parliament approved parts of that bill by decree the following months and the remainder was approved on Saturday. Government officials have said foreign creditors have agreed to the bill in line with a procedure agreed under the bailout.
A Greek newspaper reported on Saturday that Greece's EU lenders have been working on a plan to offer the country gradual debt relief on condition that it adopts additional reforms by 2022.
(Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Angeliki Koutantou and Raissa Kasolowsky)
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