Greece votes on budget to unlock aid

Sun Nov 11, 2012 5:51am EST
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By Michael Winfrey and Harry Papachristou

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece is expected to approve a 2013 budget on Sunday that includes unpopular spending cuts and tax hikes so it can receive an international aid payment and avoid insolvency.

The parliamentary vote is a test of confidence in Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' three-party coalition government as it tries to steer the country through a debt crisis and out of a five-year recession.

A separate austerity and reform package, also a condition of resuming the bailout and unlocking more than 30 billion euros in aid from the International Monetary Fund and European Union later this month, was approved on Wednesday by a thin majority.

The government faces plummeting popularity, disagreements over policy within the coalition and violent protests outside parliament but has used its majority in the assembly to push the difficult measures through.

"Today we must demand sacrifices so there is hope for future generations," Finance Minister Yannis Stounaras said in parliament on Saturday. "Re-establishing our credibility is our only passport to recovery."

Greece's biggest private and public sector unions, representing around half of Greece's 4 million workers, will hold a protest outside parliament against the budget at around 1500 GMT (10.00 a.m. EDT).

Samaras and his allies say the budget will put Greece back on track to meet goals agreed with its lenders. The leftist-led opposition says it will deepen a recession that has put one in four working-aged Greeks out of a job.

"For three years you have been going from bailout to bailout, rescue to rescue," said Panagiotis Lafazanis, a leader for the deputy caucus of the leftist SYRIZA. "You've already bankrupted the Greek people."   Continued...

Greece's Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras (L) applauds as Prime Minister Antonis Samaras looks on during a parliament session in Athens November 7, 2012. REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis