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Greece: Government wins confidence vote ahead of EU polls

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece's left-wing government late Friday won a confidence vote called by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras nearly two weeks before European Parliament elections. Tsipras won the vote 153-136 following a heated three-day debate in parliament. His Syriza party has 145 seats in the 300-member assembly, but he also received support from eight independent lawmakers.

Greek political parties have been campaigning hard in recent weeks ahead of the May 26 European Parliament elections and concurrent two-round local government elections on May 26 and June 2. Syriza is trailing rival conservatives in opinion polls, and faces national elections in October.

The vote of confidence followed a motion by the main opposition, the conservative New Democracy party, against a deputy health minister over his disparaging remarks about one of its politicians who uses a wheelchair.

Deputy Minister Pavlos Polakis said Stelios Kymbouropoulos, a conservative European Parliament candidate who has spinal muscular atrophy, had received preferential treatment in securing a state job in the national health system due to his disability.

Tsipras backed Polakis, who also sparked controversy by flouting laws against smoking in closed public areas, and requested the confidence vote on his entire government. In their campaigning for the upcoming elections, political parties have made competing promises of tax relief and social spending programs following Greece's exit last year from its eight-year bailout era that involved a wide array of austerity measures.

Draconian spending controls have eased slightly since the end of Greece's third international bailout in August. The country has partly restored independent financing with two successful bond auctions earlier this year.

On Tuesday, the government announced a two-year austerity relief package that included an immediate reduction in several sales-tax categories and a reversal of some bailout-era pension cuts. "We are presenting policies that will lift many people out of the crisis," Tsipras said before the vote. "Greece of many and Greece of the elites are two different worlds that are incompatible."

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