DEMETRIS NELLASATHENS, Greece (AP) â¿¿ Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras pledged Sunday that the deep spending cuts in the 2013 budget lawmakers were to vote on, as well as others passed a few days earlier in a contentious two-year austerity bill, will be the last. Speaking minutes before the vote, Samaras also pledged that funds from a vital â¿¬31.5 billion installment of the country's bailout loans would be disbursed "on time." He has said in the past that without it, the country will run out of money to pay salaries and pensions on Friday. "Just four days ago, we voted the most sweeping reforms ever. If we implement what we voted, the cuts we voted will be the last," Samaras said in Parliament. "Greece has done what it was asked to do and now is the time for the creditors to make good on their commitments." However, 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 the 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, when the eurozone's finance ministers are to meet in Brussels. 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. With the coalition government still holding a comfortable majority in the 300-member Parliament and all three coalition parties vowing to back the legislation, the 2013 budget is expected to pass. The separate bill of deep spending cuts and tax hikes for 2013-14 squeaked past with a narrow majority in the 300-member Parliament last Wednesday, following deep disagreements among the coalition members.
About 15,000 people converged on the central Athens square outside Parliament earlier in the evening in a peaceful anti-austerity rally. The demonstration ahead of Wednesday's vote had numbered more than 80,000 people and degenerated into violent clashes between protesters and riot police."Tonight we vote on the budget to eliminate our primary deficit, to start making our debt sustainable and to pave the way for viable development," Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said. The primary budget deficit doesn't take into account interest payments on outstanding debt. Samaras has said that without further funding, Greece will run out of euros on Friday, the day on which â¿¬5 billion worth of treasury bills mature and must be repaid. "Without the help of the European Central Bank, the refunding of these treasury bills from the banking system will lead the private sector to complete suffocation," Stournaras said. Disbursement of the next installment to Greece is essential "because the state's available funds are marginal, although better than expected because the 2012 budget is being executed better than expected," he said, adding that the funds are needed to pay salaries and pensions, as well as for the import of medicines, fuel and food. Stournaras, however, stressed that with the budget approved, Greece would have fulfilled all its commitments. With the 2013-14 austerity measures bill and the budget passed into law, "nobody can say any more that Greece must meet its obligations. We have met them and then some," he said. In Athens, protesters waved banners with anti-austerity slogans such as "IMF get out" as they milled around Syntagma Square outside Parliament in a rally that ended peacefully after a few hours. Alexis Tsipras, the head of the main opposition Radical Left Coalition party, or Syriza, insisted the new austerity cuts are unfair and would leave Greeks unable to buy essentials such as food, fuel and medicine this winter.
Greece is mired in a deep recession, with its economy contracting by nearly a quarter over the past four years, and unemployment spiraling to above 25 percent."This is why we say you are dangerous for this country," Tspiras said, addressing the government. "You are incapable of negotiating." Tspiras promised to repeal the austerity laws and negotiate "on an equal footing" with the country's creditors if he were to come to power. In an opinion poll published in the Sunday newspaper To Vima, 66 percent opposed the new austerity measures, but 52 percent said the government, which emerged from June elections, should be given more time to handle the economic crisis. The poll showed Syriza, which came second in June's elections, ahead of coalition leader center-right New Democracy by nearly 3 percentage points. The extreme right-wing nationalist Golden Dawn party continued its strong showing with more than one in 10 respondents preferring it. The poll involved 1,017 respondents with a margin of error of 3.07 percent. ____ Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed.