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Politics

Greek parliament passes penny-pinching 2013 budget

Politicians in Athens have approved a 2013 austerity budget. It's the latest attempt to persuade international creditors to release the next tranche of loans for the cash-strapped country.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras managed to drum up support for the 2013 budget among all three members of his coalition, meaning that the austerity measures passed through parliament by a relatively comfortable 167-128 margin in early hours of Monday morning.

Anti-austerity protesters had again gathered outside parliament to register their opposition.

The late night talks starting on Sunday followed a similar midweek deal on legislation allowing for spending cuts and tax increases over the next two years. The government is scrambling to secure the latest installment of emergency loans from international partners, with Samaras telling parliament he thought the 2013 budget would prove the final hurdle.

"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 told the house in a pre-vote rallying cry.

The "troika" of international lenders - the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund - had stipulated that further cuts were necessary before the next 31.5-billion-euro ($40-billion) tranche of emergency loans could be released. Such audits and requests have been a regular fixture prior to the payment of each installment of Greece's so-called bailout packages.

Enough for the next tranche?

The government in Greece says the 2013 austerity budget will help put the economy back on track, though opposition parties contest that it will only deepen the difficulties in a country that has already clocked five consecutive years of recession.

"You are dangerous for this country," said Alexis Tsipras, leader of the largest opposition group, left-wing SYRIZA. "Many Greeks because of you will be left without the basics to live on this winter because you are incapable of negotiating."

Tsipras said the situation was becoming sufficiently serious that some Greeks might be unable to buy essentials like fuel, food and medicine next year. A poll published in the To Vima newspaper on Sunday said that more than 85 percent of Greeks were facing financial difficulties.

Eurozone finance ministers convene on Monday for talks that will include Greece, but Brussels had warned beforehand that Athens should not necessarily expect a decision on the next batch of loans - a sentiment also voiced by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble.

msh/ccp (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)