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Greek budget vote stirs street protests

Thousands of protesters massed outside Greece’s Parliament yesterday as lawmakers prepared to vote on a 2013 budget that includes draconian cuts but needs to pass for vital foreign aid to be released.

Police estimated around 15,000 marchers joined two separate marches in the capital Athens. “The measures will pass but we are here to prove that we are not resigned to it,” said Olga P., 35, an English teacher in a public school.

The parliamentary vote is the latest hurdle for the government to clear its bid to head off bankruptcy in the debt-crippled country. The budget includes another €9.4 billion in cuts and paints a gloomy outlook for the country’s economy and government finances.

But Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, while acknowledging the sacrifices already endured by Greeks, told Parliament on Saturday that 2013 would be crucial for the country’s economy.

This latest vote was being held just days after Parliament adopted a separate austerity package on Wednesday.

The austerity regime imposed on Greece, which has included massive cuts to public-sector wages and pensions, has triggered a series of general strikes. Street protests in major cities have frequently turned violent.

Yesterday’s protest was called by both the public-sector Adedy union and the private-sector GSEE union.

A GSEE statement called urged to reject the austerity policies. A banner from the opposition radical left-wing Syriza party called for the government’s downfall.

But Stournaras has appealed to MPs to support the budget to ensure Greece stays in the euro.

The country is currently surviving on two massive bailouts from its international creditors.

The budget must pass if Greece is to have any chance of unlocking a 31.5 billion euro ($40 billion) tranche of bailout funds from its three international creditors – the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank.

The vote also comes on the eve of a eurozone finance ministers meeting, during which Athens’ progress on carrying out required reforms and cuts would be scrutinised.

The troika is due to deliver a report on the state of Greece’s finances before the aid, which has been frozen since June, is paid out.

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