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[ATHENS] Greece's parliament approved next year's budget in the early hours of Monday, setting aside a dispute with EU/IMF lenders who say Athens must accept more austerity to meet budget targets.
The vote passed with 155 lawmakers in favour with 134 lawmakers against in the 300-seat chamber. One independent lawmaker bucked the government.
It came against the backdrop of a volatile political climate in Greece, as Prime Minister Antonis Samaras struggles to push through an early exit from an unpopular EU/IMF aid programme and ensure the survival of his government after a presidential vote next year. "National elections will be catastrophic for Greece," Mr Samaras told parliament before the budget was voted.
Mr Samaras at present does not have the needed opposition support to elect his candidate for president. New elections must be called if parliament fails to elect a president. "Your mind today is not here - it's at the presidential election," opposition leader Alexis Tsipras told Mr Samaras in parliament. "Your big problem is that your time is running out."
The 2015 budget plan is the closest to a balanced budget Greece has produced in more than three decades and promises cuts to crisis-era taxes as well as higher economic growth next year.
But the row with the EU and IMF over a disputed budget shortfall next year has held up the country's final bailout inspection and plans to exit the aid programme. Greece's lenders are demanding 1.7 billion euros in additional measures to hit budget targets next year, but Athens has rejected the demands, Samaras told parliament.
The finance minister said after the vote that a possible extension of the bailout will be decided later on Monday.
Earlier about 4,000 Greeks took to the streets to protest austerity measures the government has imposed at the behest of EU/IMF lenders.