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Greek state budget deficit shrinks

Greece is already beating some of its debt-reduction targets, as figures show its central budget deficit for the first two months of 2012 had shrunk by more than half compared with the same period last year.

The state budget deficit - the amount the government spends against what it receives in taxes - was 495 million euro in January and February this year, the Finance Ministry said.

That was significantly lower than the 879 million euro target set out in the budget, and less than half the 1.1 billion euro in the same period last year.

The figures were published hours after Philippos Sachinidis was sworn in as the new finance minister, replacing Evangelos Venizelos who quite the post Monday after being elected to head the majority Socialist party.

Mr Sachinidis, 49, was promoted from deputy finance minister after serving for two years as the head of a Greece's drive to cut public spending.

Prime Minister Lucas Papademos' government is expected to call general elections for late April or early May after successfully negotiating a massive debt deal for additional rescue loans from eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund and a debt restructuring with banks and other private bond holders.

Conservatives are leading in opinion polls but have suffered a drop in popularity in recent weeks, stung by their participation in the governing coalition and the emergence of a splinter party.

A tracking survey to published by the weekly news magazine Epikaira gave the conservative New Democracy party 22.5% of projected support, losing five points from the previous month, while the newly founded Independent Greeks breakaway party received a surprise 11%.

The majority Socialist party gained slightly in the VPRC survey and received 12.5%. No margin of error was quoted.

Greek lawmakers approved the new international bailout deal, which will see Greece receive 172 billion euro in rescue loans over the next few years. The amount includes a second, 130 billion euro package as well as the un-disbursed portion of a first, 110 billion euro ailout and funds from the IMF.

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