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Greek government survives confidence vote, kicks out one deputy

Supporters of the leftist main opposition Syriza party take part in an anti-government rally in front of the parliament in Athens November 1
Supporters of the leftist main opposition Syriza party take part in an anti-government rally in front of the parliament in Athens November 1

By Lefteris Papadimas

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece's conservative-led coalition defeated, as expected, an opposition-sponsored motion to topple the government on Monday, but lost one lawmaker who was expelled after backing the opposition.

A total 153 out of the parliament's 300 lawmakers rejected the opposition's censure motion. But Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's coalition expelled one Socialist lawmaker who voted with the opposition, reducing the coalition's majority to four.

The confidence vote was put forth by the main opposition Syriza party, which aims to overturn the austerity policies that the Greek government is implementing as a condition of its EU/IMF bailout.

The debate took place during a crucial inspection visit of representatives of the so-called "troika" of lenders, who are in Athens to check its progress in meeting bailout targets before they approve the release of up to 5.9 billion euros in lifeline loans.

"Thousands of people are looking in the rubbish for food," Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras told lawmakers, asking them to back the censure motion.

About 3,500 Syriza supporters gathered outside parliament during the debate, holding banners and shouting: "Take your bailout and get out of here".

Syriza filed the censure motion after riot police stormed the headquarters of former state broadcaster ERT on Thursday to end a protracted sit-in of journalists who were fired five months ago.

The dismissals were part of a bailout-imposed plan to get rid of 4,000 state workers by the end of the year.

"You chose the wrong moment to play parliamentary theatrics, in a time when the government is in crucial negotiations with the troika," Samaras said in response to Tsipras.

Samaras's government and the troika are still at loggerheads over how many additional savings Athens needs to hit its 2014 budget targets.

Under the terms of its 240-billion euro bailout, Athens must achieve a primary budget surplus, before interest payments, of 2.75 billion euros next year, or 1.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

The troika currently estimates that Greece will fall about 2 billion euros short of that target and is forcing Samaras to come up with new budget measures to fill that "fiscal gap".

But the austerity-weary government has ruled out any fresh wage cuts, pension reductions or tax increases, hoping instead that "targeted" cuts, an economic rebound and a crackdown on tax evasion will help it reach its targets.

"Make no mistake, there will be no new fiscal measures, no wage and pension cuts," Evangelos Venizelos, Samaras's junior coalition partner and chief of the Socialist PASOK party, said on Sunday.

Troika heads and Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras did not reach agreement on how to close the fiscal gap in a meeting on Sunday. They will resume talks on Tuesday. (Writing by Harry Papachristou; Editing by Paul Simao)

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