Greece votes budget, hopes to unlock aid

Sun Nov 11, 2012 6:37pm EST
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By Michael Winfrey and Harry Papachristou

ATHENS (Reuters) - The Greek parliament approved an austerity budget for next year on Sunday, allowing it to extend its international financial bailout and avoid bankruptcy.

With backing from all three parties in conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's coalition, the bill passed by a more comfortable margin than a separate package of deficit-cutting measures on which some of his allies had abstained on Wednesday.

Passing both bills had been necessary to unblock a new tranche of credit from the European Union and International Monetary Fund before the government ran out of cash.

Samaras said he now expected the funds to be forthcoming, although a meeting on Monday in Brussels of euro zone finance ministers is not expected to take a final decision on that.

Referring to the 2013 budget and to last Wednesday's other measures, Samaras told parliament before Sunday's late-night vote that Greece was turning a corner: "The sacrifices included in that law and in the budget we are voting today are the last.

"We will start rectifying the injustices included in them once we get out of the deficits ... But the reforms we passed will be permanent and will boost the economy."

His critics are sceptical, though after years of mounting public anger there are signs of fatigue. A demonstration called by trade unions and communists mustered thousands of protesters outside parliament, but the numbers were a small fraction of the almost 100,000 who gathered outside the legislature last week.

Many of the country's 10 million people, driven to despair by five years of economic contraction, fear attempts to cut the deficit will only deepen the crisis; unemployment is running at 25 percent and many find living standards have fallen sharply.   Continued...