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Greece passes 2013 austerity budget

Athens - Greece moved one step closer to persuading international lenders to release the next tranche of emergency aid needed to keep the country from going bankrupt, as lawmakers approved the country's 2013 austerity budget early on Monday.

The approval by a 167-128 vote comes just days after separate budget-cutting legislation including deep spending cuts and tax hikes over the next two years was passed by lawmakers in the 300-seat parliament.

File photo. Credit: Reuters

That package sparked protests that brought tens of thousands of recession-weary demonstrators into the streets and more than 10 000 protesters also came out on Sunday ahead of the budget vote.

Angered by the cutbacks, garbage collectors have gone on strike. Judges have extend their protest action to November 21 and lawyers will continue theirs through Friday, while pharmacists said they would walk off the job for two days from November 26.

The so-called troika of international creditors - the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund - have demanded the tough belt-tightening in return for loans.

Their next 31.5-billion-euro tranche hinges on approval of the 2013 budget which conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his coalition partners say will put the economy back on track.

“Just four days ago we voted through the most drastic reforms ever... Greece has done what it was asked to do and now it is time for the creditors to make good on their commitments,” Samaras said ahead of the budget vote, promising that aid would be disbursed on time.

Leftist parties insist it will have the opposite effect, arguing that it will deepen the recession which is entering its sixth year and has left one in four Greeks unemployed.

The leader of Greece's main opposition, the Radical Left Coalition Party or SYRIZA, said a new package of austerity cuts will leave Greeks unable to buy basic essentials such as food, fuel and medicine.

According to a poll which was published in To Vima newspaper on Sunday, more than 85 percent of Greeks are facing financial difficulties.

“You are dangerous for this country,” SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras said, adding “many Greeks because of you will be left without the basics to live on this winter because you are incapable of negotiating”.

Athens has expressed hope that the troika will quickly disburse the new installment, but Brussels has indicated Greece should not expect a decision during Monday's eurozone finance ministers' meeting.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble also has said international creditors would not be rushed into approving the next tranche of aid.

The disbursement also depends on a positive report by the creditors on the country's fiscal progress.

The troika wants Athens to slash its debt to 120 per cent of gross domestic product by 2020. European Union data released last week projected Greek debt worth almost 190 per cent of GDP by 2014. - Sapa-dpa

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