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Greece to vote on 2013 budget

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- About 15,000 protesters converged on the Greek capital's main square outside Parliament on Sunday, ahead of a vote by lawmakers on the 2013 budget which would once more cut pensions and salaries so Greece can qualify for its 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 (euro) 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, protesters waved banners with anti-austerity slogans such as "IMF get out” as they milled around Syntagma Square outside Parliament in a peaceful rally.

During Wednesday's parliamentary vote on the austerity bill, tens of thousands 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, which emerged from June elections, should be given more time to handle the 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 showed the Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) party, which came second in June's elections and is the main opposition party, 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.

New Democracy's coalition government partners, the socialist PASOK and small Democratic Left, would get 7.5 and 4.6 percent respectively.

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

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