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Greece

Troika suspends Greek negotiations as Athens clears budget

Greece's parliament has passed a 2014 budget continuing the country's course of austerity measures. Meanwhile, international creditors have suspended a visit to Athens - and by extension the next tranche of loans.

The Greek parliament narrowly passed an annual budget incorporating further spending cuts on Saturday. The government figures also predict a return to economic growth in 2014 after six consecutive years of recession.

"This is a historic day," Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said after his coalition's budget cleared parliament by 153 votes to 142.

The left-leaning Syriza bloc, currently Greece's largest opposition group, had opposed the budget, arguing in particular that further cuts would be implemented after the event in order to appease international creditors.

The current budget incorporates further cutbacks worth around 3.1 billion euros ($4.2 billion). However, the official government projections for the budget also forecast a slight surplus of 812 million euros, if you exclude the interest repayments tied to existing debt.

"We're standing on our own two feet again," Samaras said, calling this a "revolutionary development" given Greece's recent history.

Samaras's finance minister, Ioannis Stournaras, said the 2014 budget "shows that the Greek people's efforts are starting to bear fruit."

Troika talks, and loans, on hold

As the politicians voted in Athens, Greece's international creditors announced another delay in their next trip to the capital city. The so-called Troika – comprising the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – said its complete team of auditors would return to Greece next year.

"We expect a full negotiating team to return to Athens in January, after the authorities have made further progress in implementation," the troika said in a joint statement. The three insitutions added, however, that "technical discussions" would continue in Athens next week.

The troika is yet to approve Greece's 2014 budget or to release the latest 1-billion-euro ($1.73-billion) tranche of international loans, originally due in October.

Citing Greek Finance Ministry sources, the DPA news agency reported that the government in Athens was relaxed about the delay, as it was able to survive without international aid at least until the end of January.

Samaras' coalition enjoys only a narrow majority in parliament and is walking something of a tightrope: seeking simultaneously to cut spending enough to satisfy the troika while also trying to escape recession and combat record unemployment levels of more than 25 percent. Public protests in Athens organized by two of the country's largest trade unions on Saturday drew a smaller turnout than expected, with police estimating that 300 people took part.

msh/ch (AFP, dpa)