Europe’s Financial Crisis Deepens As Chaos & Riots Plague Greece
May 6, 2010: Sebastian Moffett and Alkman Granitsas / The Wall Street Journal – May 6, 2010
ATHENS—Greece’s fiscal crisis took a new turn to violence Wednesday when three people died in a firebomb attack amid a paralyzing national strike, while governments from Spain to the U.S. took steps to prevent the widening financial damage from hitting their own economies.
U.S. Treasury officials have been quietly urging their European and International Monetary Fund counterparts to put together a Greek rescue plan more quickly to contain the damage, it emerged Wednesday, as U.S. policy makers worry the continent’s problems could undermine a U.S. recovery much as U.S. housing woes hammered Europe in 2008.
In Spain, rival political leaders came together Wednesday with an agreement that aims to shore up shaky savings banks by the end of next month. Banks in France and Germany, which are among Greece’s top creditors, pledged to support a Greek bailout by continuing to lend to the country. Investors, meanwhile, are pouring money into bonds of countries seen as less exposed to the crisis, from Russia to Egypt.
Anxiety over the euro-zone economies sent the euro down to about 1.29 to the dollar, its lowest level in more than a year. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell for the second straight day, losing 58.65 points, or 0.54%, to close at 10868.12.
Greece’s 24-hour nationwide general strike brought much of the country to a standstill, closing government offices and halting flights, trains and ferries.
At the same time, tens of thousands of protesters marched through Athens in the largest and most violent protests since the country’s budget crisis began last fall. Angry youths rampaged through the center of Athens, torching several businesses and vehicles and smashing shop windows. Protesters and police clashed in front of parliament and fought running street battles around the city.
Witnesses said hooded protesters smashed the front window of Marfin Bank in central Athens and hurled a Molotov cocktail inside. The three victims died from asphyxiation from smoke inhalation, the Athens coroner’s office said. Four others were seriously injured there, fire department officials said.
A police spokesman said eight fires in Athens office buildings and bank buildings had been brought under control. Later Wednesday, black smoke billowed from fires on one of Athens’s main shopping streets. Glass shards and smoldering garbage littered the sidewalks.
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou condemned the violence. “Everyone has the right to protest,” he said in a statement to parliament. “But no one has the right to violence and especially violence that leads to the death of our compatriots.”
Wednesday’s protests were sparked by Greece’s weekend agreement to adopt austerity measures in exchange for a €110 billion ($143 billion) bailout loan from the European Union and the IMF. Unions challenged Greece’s parliament, which could consider the measures as soon as Thursday, to vote them down.
The general strike marks the broadest challenge to date to the government of Mr. Papandreou, which is pressed to pass the austerity legislation to unlock bailout funds to meet a debt payment later this month that it otherwise couldn’t meet. The protests also brought out many Greeks who were resigned to belt-tightening. Their unhappiness at the cuts was matched with rancor toward a generation of politicians who they say spurred the crisis with decades of corruption, kickbacks and accounting legerdemain aimed at obscuring to the EU the true level of Greece’s annual deficits.
“For 30 years the Greek people have been held hostage,” said Periandros Athanassakis, 48, a garbage collector in Piraeus, the port near Athens. “Those who stole the money should pay.” Some officials saw in Wednesday’s protests the seeds of broader discontent. “We may have an uprising in the making,” one senior Greek official said.
Greeks generally don’t blame Mr. Papandreou for the country’s problems, however, saying he inherited them from predecessors. It was his administration, elected in October, that announced the government’s budget deficit for 2009 would be equivalent around 13% of gross domestic product, compared with the 6% claimed by the previous administration. Mr. Papandreou’s approval ratings are higher than those of the leader of the main opposition party.
Analysts also said the shock of Wednesday’s deaths could nudge Greece’s fractious political parties toward closer cooperation in dealing with the crisis and making it easier to pass reforms. “This changes the political scene,” said George Sefertzis, an independent political commentator with the Athens consultancy Evresis. “There is no doubt that the deaths ease some of the political pressure.”
Under terms of the bailout deal, Greece’s government has announced a €30 billion package that will slash public-sector wages, cut pensions, freeze public- and private-sector pay, liberalize Greece’s labor laws and raise some taxes. In Berlin on Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel called on parliament to approve Germany’s contribution of €22.4 billion in loans to Greece. German public opinion opposes a Greek bailout but Ms. Merkel said it was essential. “Europe stands at a crossroad,” she said. “With us, with Germany, there can and will be a decision which lives up to the political, historical situation.”
In Greece’s northern city of Thessaloniki, there were reports of violence as police clashed with demonstrators who were attacking shop fronts amid a rally that drew at least 20,000 protesters to the streets. Police officials estimated there were 20,000 protesters in Athens. Union officials said union-affiliated protesters alone totaled more than 60,000. Others put the number higher still. “This rally was double the size of the largest rally that has ever been held in Greece,” said Spyros Papaspyros, president of Adedy, a civil-service umbrella union. “If the government doesn’t listen, there will be more strike action next week.”
The day’s general strike, the year’s third, shut ministries and public offices. State hospitals and public utilities operated with skeleton staff. Shopkeepers joined the strike at midday, while journalists, bank workers, teachers, court workers, lawyers and doctors also walked off the job.
Many Greeks taking part in the demonstration saw little alternative than to accept the government measures and brace for a long, deep recession. “I don’t expect the measures to be withdrawn,” said Pericles Papapetrou, 61, an architect and engineer who used to be mayor of the town of Elefsina. But, he said, the measures “could lead to extreme situations, such as an increase in crime, and also to an explosion of young people with no future.”
Artemis Batzak Panayou, a cleaning lady working for a local government, saw her €1,200 monthly salary, on which she supports three children, cut by €250 at the beginning of the year. She believes it will fall further. “There is no way to survive on the daily wages in the public sector,” she said, adding: “Greece won’t be fixed until all the crooks are removed from government.”
Greece Riots 2010 – Raw Video
The Tonka Report Editor’s Note: This kind of uprising could spread like wildfire across all of Europe. Let us not forget Iceland… – SJH
Link to original article below…
Written by Steven John Hibbs
May 6, 2010 at 11:21 am
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