Greece to vote on 2013 budget; protesters gather

Greek deputies to vote on 2013 budget; German FinMin dampens hopes for quick decision on funds

Associated Press
Greece passes 2013 austerity budget
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Demonstrators hold national and Syriza's party flag as well with anti austerity banners outside of the Greek Parliament in Athens on Sunday Nov. 11, 2012. Greece's lawmakers were set on Sunday to pass next year's austerity budget, extending tough spending cuts measures that have already left Greeks struggling as the country tries to slash its debts and pull itself out of a severe recession. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Hundreds of protesters were converging on the Greek capital's main square outside Parliament on Sunday evening, as lawmakers debated the 2013 budget, which includes pension and salary cuts demanded by the country's international creditors in order for them to approve the next vital batch of rescue loans.

Lawmakers were to vote at midnight or shortly after, and the legislation is expected to pass. The vote comes four days after a separate bill of deep spending cuts and tax hikes for 2013-14 squeaked past with a narrow majority in the 300-member Parliament following deep disagreements among the members of Greece's three-party coalition government.

Approval of the austerity bill and the budget are key steps toward persuading Greece's international creditors — the International Monetary Fund and the other European countries that use the euro — to release the next €31.5 billion installment of its bailout loans. Without it, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has said Greece will run out of euros on Friday.

But German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, whose country is the largest single contributor to Greece's bailout, said in a German newspaper interview published Sunday that international creditors won't be rushed when it comes to approving the loan disbursement.

"We all ... want to help Greece, but we won't be put under pressure," Schaeuble told weekly newspaper Welt am Sonntag.

Schaeuble said the so-called troika of debt inspectors likely won't deliver their report on Greece's reform program by Monday. Once the report is submitted to the European Central Bank, European Union and International Monetary Fund, it will have to be studied carefully, he said.

He said Germany's parliament must have the chance to "check, discuss and decide" on the release of the funds.

In Athens, thousands were expected to turn up for an anti-austerity rally to protest the 2013 budget. During the last parliamentary vote on Wednesday, for the austerity bill, tens of thousands of people marched through the streets until the demonstration degenerated into violence. Hundreds of rioters threw rocks, chunks of marble and gasoline bombs at police, who responded with large amounts of tear gas and made the first use of water cannon in the Greek capital in decades.

In an opinion poll published in the Sunday newspaper To Vima, 66 percent opposed the new austerity measures, but 52 percent said the government should be given more time to handle Greece's economic crisis.

According to the poll, 86 percent of the respondents are facing financial difficulties after more than four years of recession, during which the economy has shrunk by a quarter and unemployment has soared to more than 25 percent.

The poll involved 1,017 respondents with a margin of error of 3.07 percent.

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