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Lawmakers in Greece approve tough budget for coming fiscal year

ATHENS--Greece's parliament on Saturday approved a tough budget for next year, aimed at ending the country's deep recession, despite continued differences on fiscal policy with the country's international creditors.

The coalition government, which enjoys a narrow majority in the 300-seat chamber, scraped through with 153 deputies backing the 2014 budget in a late evening vote.

The budget measures included a further 3.1 billion euros (US$4.2 billion) in spending cuts from an economy already suffering from successive austerity measures.

The move came as Greece's troika of international creditors — the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — announced they had delayed until January their next trip to Athens.

Senior auditors from the so-called creditor troika had been expected to return to Athens on Monday to resume an evaluation of pledged Greek reforms.

The EU-ECB-IMF decision means talks on unblocking one billion euros in bailout funds are postponed.

The budget approved by parliament foresees a return to growth for the embattled Greek economy.

But earlier Saturday a spokesman for EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said the international negotiating team would not return to Athens until next month “after the authorities have made further progress in implementation” of reforms demanded by Greece's creditors.

An agreement with the troika is necessary to unblock the one-billion-euro instalment of financial aid pending since the summer.

Athens has been keen to wrap up the talks before it assumes the rotating EU presidency in January.

The creditors and Athens disagree on the level of a forecasted financing gap for 2014 and the measures that need to be taken to cover it.

Discussions are reportedly stumbling on the issue of a new property tax, debtor property auctions, layoffs in the state sector and the slow pace of privatization.

The government is under pressure from the troika to loosen a moratorium on home foreclosures but such a measure is likely to be opposed by several ruling party lawmakers and could risk the cohesion of the conservative-socialist coalition.

Greece's budget for 2014 has not yet been approved by the troika and could yet be amended in the coming months with new austerity measures that the government has thus far rigorously opposed.

As it stands the budget foresees a 0.6-percent growth in GDP for next year after six consecutive years of recession. A four percent contraction is expected this year.

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Greece's prime minister Antonis Samaras, left, votes for the 2014 budget during a parliamentary session in Athens in the early hours of Sunday, Dec. 8.

(AFP)

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