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Eurozone crisis: Clashes as Greeks protest over bailout deal

Tear gas fired during Athens protests
Party leader refuses to support austerity measures
• Venizelos: Greece must decide whether to remain in the euro
No disembursement without implementation
Papademos tells colleagues to back bailout deal or go

6.21pm: After the comments from the Greek cabinet meeting, it’s time to wrap the blog up for another week.

Amid protests on the street and disunity in the government, the country is still trying to get agreement on its austerity measures to enable payment of the next €130bn tranche of bailout funds.

The weekend could see a crucial vote on the cuts, with a possible cabinet reshuffle to follow. In any case Greece has to reach agreement by the time of a Eurozone meeting on Wednesday.

We’ll be back on Monday morning to follow all the developments, so time to say thanks for all the comments and have a nice weekend.

5.55pm: Greek prime minister Lucas Papademos has told his cabinet meeting the country must do whatever it take to approve the €130bn bailout deal.

Defending his position amid a number of resignations – five so far it looks like now – he said any cabinet member who disagreed would have to go. According to Reuters Papademos said:

We cannot allow Greece to go bankrupt. Our priority is to do whatever it takes to approve the new economic programme and proceed with the new loan agreement.

It goes without saying that whoever disagrees and does not vote for the new programme cannot remain in the government.

He said there would be a sale of state assets worth at least €19bn up to 2015. And (heroically?) he spoke not just of austerity but of growth. The programme apparently sees a return to economic growth in 2013 and GDP growth of 2.5% in 2014 and 2015.

He reckons this is ambition but achievable……And he said those who thought default was preferable were wrong.

5.45pm: Now Fitch has waded in again to the Greek debate.

The ratings agency, which said last month the country would struggle to make its March bond repayments, has said it must secure an agreement about its bailout or face a disorderly default.

Now this may all be stating the obvious but it’s chilling nonetheless. According to Bloomberg, Fitch said such a default could cause panic in the Greek banking system and cause contagion elsewhere, with Portugal and Ireland mentioned. reports:

“They must get this deal agreed really within the next few days to enable them sufficient time to do the paperwork and have the new bailout money disbursed before that bond is due,” Tony Stringer, a managing director at Fitch, said in a conference in Singapore today. “If they don’t manage to achieve that, then it could be in the realms of a disorderly default.”

5.26pm: In a move which will surprise absolutely no one who’s been following the long drawn out Greek drama, the proposed cabinet reshuffle has reportedly been delayed until Monday.

That means it will happen after Sunday’s vote on the austerity measures (sorry for stating the obvious, there.)*

Meanwhile European markets have closed and it’s not a pretty sight. Germany’s Dax is down 1.41%, France’s Cac is 1.51% lower and Italy is off 1.76%. The FTSE 100 finished 43.08 points lower at 5852.39, a 0.73% decline.

Athens fell more than 5% before recovering some of its losses to end 3% lower.

Meanwhile on Wall Street the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 120 points at the moment, or nearly 1%.

* An update: talk now is the bailout vote itself might now not take place until Monday. Why am I not surprised?

4.44pm: We seem to be up to four resignations at the moment.

These are deputy foreign minister Mariliza Xenogiannakopoulou and three members of LAOS. According to Greek newspaper Etathimerini:

Transport Minister Makis Voridis, Deputy Merchant Marine Minister Adonis Georgiadis and Deputy Agriculture Minister Asterios Rondoulis tendered their resignation after LAOS leader Giorgos Karatzaferis said that he would not support the loan agreement following lengthy negotiations this week.

Apparently a cabinet meeting is due shortly which will be covered here (in Greek).

4.00pm: And the resignations apparently keep on coming. Greek TV is reporting deputy foreign minister Mariliza Xenogiannakopoulou is stepping down, while AP says two ministers have resigned. No more details on either, and at the moment it’s not clear which two ministers AP is referring to.

There is growing talk that prime minster Lucas Papademos will announce a cabinet reshuffle…

3.49pm: Back with the US, it appears American consumers turned less optimistic about the economy in the early part of this month.

A Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan index of consumer sentiment fell from 75 in January to 72.5, less than the 74.5 level economists had been expecting. Annalisa Piazza of Newedge Strategy said:

This is quite disappointing, given the reassuring picture described by the last bureau of labour statistics employment report and the upswing in other survey indicators. We expect an upward correction in the coming months, with further signs of improvement in the US economy.

It has disappointed the market for sure, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average has slipped further, down 126 points or almost 1%.

3.19pm: Here’s some video of the demonstrations in Athens against the austerity measures, showing police using teargas against protestors.

It also includes George Karatzaferis of the Laos party saying he cannot vote in favour of the proposed cutbacks.

2.57pm: Reports are coming in that another Greek minister has resigned over the austerity measures.

Deputy farm minister Asterios Rodoulis is said to have quit, following in the footsteps of Pavlos Stasinos, a Pasok (socialist) MP. Yesterday, a Pasok deputy labour minister and a New Democracy deputy both quit, saying they could not accept the demands being made on the Greek people.

Meanwhile my colleague Larry Elliott has written a piece arguing that the Germans want the Greeks out of the euro. He says:

With one important caveat, this would be a good outcome for Angela Merkel. If Greece decided to quit the euro of its own volition, she could say she had done all she could to keep the single currency intact but, in the end, the Greeks themselves had decided it was time to go.

The caveat is, of course, that a Greek departure would be orderly rather than disruptive.

2.41pm: The uncertainty in Greece – to put it mildly – is causing ructions well away from Hellenic shores.

Wall Street has just opened and in keeping with other global markets, it is falling sharply. The impetus for all this was news that George Karatzaferis of the Laos party, part of the Greek coalition, had refused to support the austerity programme the country has to agree in return for a second aid package worth €130bn.

It is still possible that Sunday’s vote will endorse the cuts, but the move by Karatzaferis has caused more confusion in an already confusing situation. And markets are not liking it one bit. Germany’s Dax is now down 1.65%, France’s Cac is off 1.16% and the FTSE 100 has fallen 0.7%.

As for the US, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down around 101 points or 0.7% in the first few minutes of trading. The fall comes despite news of a US trade deficit that widened from .1bn in November to .8bn in December, much in line with expectations.

With investors seeking havens for their money and finding few around, one area of appeal was UK government gilts, which have jumped more than a point. Ten year yields have dipped by 8 basis points to 2.143%.

2.08pm: It appears inevitable that Greek prime minister Lucas Papademos will be forced to shake up his cabinet very soon.

The Greek government spokesman has just told Helena Smith in Athens that since the national LAOS party [the government's junior coalition partner] won’t be giving its vote to the loan agreement in parliament (see 12.19pm), it is “only logical” that there will be a cabinet reshuffle.

Spokesman Pandelis Kapsis said:

It is only logical that since he [Laos leader Georgios Karatzaferis'] won’t be [endorsing the latest round of austerity measures in exchange for aid], his ministers won’t be staying in the government.

Another well-placed official said Karatzaferis’ decision not to back the measures when they are put to vote on Sunday would create “a serious problem” although he did not think it would stop the package being passed.

And with that, I’m handing this blog over to my colleague Nick Fletcher. Thanks all.

1.54pm: Greece’s largest police union has threatened to issue arrest warrants for officials from the country’s European Union and International Monetary Fund lenders for demanding deeply unpopular austerity measures.

That’s according to Reuters, which says it has obtained a letter from the Federation of Greek Police. In it, the police accuse Troika officials of:

…blackmail, covertly abolishing or eroding democracy and national sovereignty.

Since you are continuing this destructive policy, we warn you that you cannot make us fight against our brothers.

One target of the warrants would be the IMF’s top official for Greece, Poul Thomsen.

Reuters explains:

The threat is largely symbolic since legal experts say a judge must first authorize such warrants, but it shows the depth of anger against foreign lenders who have demanded drastic wage and pension cuts in exchange for funds to keep Greece afloat.

1.30pm: Here’s a lunchtime round-up of the main events so far:

One of Greece’s coalition leaders has refused to support the austerity programme that Greece must accept in return for a second aid package. George Karatzaferis of the Laos party said that the plan was the wrong way to take Greece. The move throws the situation in Athens into fresh confusion – just a day after the country’s prime minister claimed that he had an agreement.

Greek workers are taking part in a 48-hour strike in protest at the bailout plans. Transport systems, schools and offices have all been affected. In Athens, demonstrators convened on Syntagma Square and chanted for MPs to resign. Clashes broke out, teargas was deployed, and petrol bombs were thrown at police.

Overnight, finance minister Evangelos Venizelos warned that Greece must either comply with the demands of its lenders, or quit the eurozone. He spoke out after the eurogroup of finance ministers ruled that Greece has not yet met its obligations, and must find €325m of additional budget cuts.

Several MPs have spoken out against the austerity measures. One independent member pledged to vote against the plan, a second quit the government, and a third claimed that the latest budget cuts would ensure Greece’s bankruptcy.

And on another note this lunchtime, several hundred Belgian firefighters have broken through police lines in Brussels and hosed down the prime minister’s office in protest at the government’s tougher retirement plans – part of its own austerity plans.

Remarkable scenes — for once, it wasn’t the protesters who got a drenching.

1.19pm: An update on that Greek cabinet meeting — it’s now been postponed until tomorrow. The situation is looking increasingly confused…..

12.51pm: The Greek cabinet is now planning to meet at 5pm Athens time (3pm GMT) to discuss the next step. That”s two hours later than planned — following George Karatzaferis’s decision to refuse to support the budget plans.

12.46pm: This second picture from Athens shows a petrol bomb exploding near riot police.

We don’t yet know whether there were any injuries.

12.42pm: We have more pictures from today’s protests in Athens.

This image shows demonstrators who have been detained by riot police.

12.38pm: An independent MP named Milena Apostalaki (formerly of Pasok) has announced that she will not vote for the austerity measures when they come before the Greek parliament (probably on Sunday).

Apostalaki’s move comes amid mounting speculation that MPs will be ordered to vote in favour of the package.

That, Helena Smith says, will be very unpopular — many MPs want to vote against the deepy unpopular package.

12.26pm: The euro has fallen sharply since Karatzaferis began his press conference — losing almost a cent against the US dollar to .3204.

Shares are also in retreat, with the FTSE 100 down 44 points at 5851. The German Dax has suffered a heavier fall, down almost 1.7%.

12.19pm: Bombshell — George Karatzaferis has declared that he cannot vote in favour of the austerity measures that international lenders insist Greece must accept.

Karatzaferis explained that he believes the road being proposed by the troika is ‘not right’.

He also explained that he still supports Lucas’s Papademos interim government, but wants the Greek prime minister to consider a reshuffle.

Karatzaferis’s Laos party controls 16 seats in 300 seat parliament, so Papademos would still have a majority if Laos walked out of the coalition (which does not appear to have happened).

However, his power extends beyond simple parliamentary maths, as the EU has demanded that all parties need to sign the bill before financial aid is released.

12.10pm: Karatzaferis – whose far-right party is the smallest part of the coalition – goes on to claim that the Paol Thomsen, the International Monetary Fund’s mission chief to Greece, should be declared “persona non grata”.

That’ll go down well with the international lenders, points out the Financial Times’s Christopher Adams:

Karatzaferis really going out of his way to build bridges with creditors

— Christopher Adams (@ChrisAdamsMKTS) February 10, 2012

Karatzaferis. also called for “the restoration of democratic processes in Europe”, and appeared to claim that Greece could cope without the “German boot”.

12.06pm: While protests continue on the streets of Greece, the leader of the Laos party has begun his eagerly awaited press conference.

Looking very glum, George Karatzaferis tells the assembled media in Athens that Greece’s dignity has been stolen, adding that he “will not put up with the country being ridiculed”.

We have Germany deciding on behalf of Europe

More to come (via Helena, who’s watching the press conference now).

11.47am: Riot police in Syntagma Square have clashed with demonstrators in the last few minutes.

Helena Smith reports that tear gas has been deployed, as “running battles” break out between protesters and the police on the steets of Athens.

Reuters reports that youths have been “throwing stones and petrol bombs”.

Here’s a picture from the streets, via Twitter.

Χημικά κ χτυπήματα τώρα οπισθοχωρουν #10fgr#Syntagma…

— giannis g. (@giannisg_) February 10, 2012

The kind of scenes we have seen at previous demonstrations, unfortunately:

Hooded persons breaking/hurling marble at riot police, tear gas, an MP resigns. Just another day in Athens. P.S. Most of us are at work

— Living in Greece (@livingingreece) February 10, 2012

11.25am: LAOS leader George Karatzaferis is due to give a press conference in a few minutes in Athens – and it could be significant.

UPDATE: It’s been delayed until noon GMT / 2pm local time

Laos political aides say that Karatzaferis wants to “speak to the people” through the press*. They say he is furious that he was not consulted about the final deal which Evangelos Venizelos presented in Brussels last night.

Could he, as the rumour mill suggests (10.41am), quit the coalition?

* – it’s a two-way process, so keep those comments coming….

11.20am: Word is also spreading on the streets that a government ministry has been occupied by protesters (as we flagged up at 10.41am). Helena Smith reports that demonstrators are being encouraged to head over there.

As kizbot points out in the comments below:

‘Κατάληψη’ or ‘occupation’ of a building is a common form of protest here.. especially in schools and universities. I wouldn’t take it as a major sign of revolution.

11.11am: At Syntagma Square, our correspondent Helena Smith finds more people than ever before are saying that Greece should leave the eurozone.

That view conflicts with polls that have shown the vast majority of Greeks wanting to hang onto their euros, and not revert to the drachma.

But Despoina Koutoulouglou argued that it would be better to leave the single currency:

Under these terms why would we want to stay?

They are turning us into a sort of India with slave wages.

Koutoulouglou described herself as a member of the “500 euro generation” – a term used to describe young people who only receive low wages and are unable to leave their parents’ home.

11.07am: Police bearing riot shields and protective helmets are now lined up outside the Greek parliament.

The protests still appear peaceful at this stage.

10.41am: Rumours are sweeping Greece that Laos, the far-right junior party in Lucas Papademos’s coalition government, might quit the administration.

George Karatzaferis, the Laos leader, is reportedly meeting with Papademos now. A press conference is scheduled for 1.30pm local time (11.30am GMT), local media report (just checking this out now).

There are also reports that workers have occupied an office of the ministry of finance:

Ορθή επανάληψη: Κατάληψη στο υπουργείο Οικονομικών στη Φιλελλήνων από υπαλλήλους…

— naftemporiki (@naftemporiki) February 10, 2012

10.36am: The front page of the mass-selling Ta Nea sums up the mood, Helena Smith reports from Athens.

It declares:

“Citizens speak: We have turned fifty years back.”

“A cold war [has erupted] with our lenders.”

Helena confirms that another MP, Pavlos Stasinos, has indeed resigned from the socialist Pasok party in “disgust” over the agreement. Throughout the morning MPs have been ringing into radio shows to have their voices heard — the vast majority being far too afraid to be seen in public .

Many said they would vote with their “conscience” come Sunday when the controversial loan agreement is put before the Greek parliament for endorsement. The effects of the accord, they argued, would be as bad as bankruptcy itself.

“If we vote these measures through we are setting in motion the bankruptcy of our country,” said Odyyseus Boudouris, a parliamentarian with the socialist Pasok party. “The dilemma we are faced with is awful and wrong. But bankruptcy won’t just be bad for Greece, it will be bad for our partners in the EU.”

10.14am: Maria Verivaki has got in touch to report that there is disruption in the city of Hania, on Crete:

main roads closed in hania centre of town due to marches, approx 800m stretch; my cabbie husband simply avoids this road

Another reader in Greece, James Wilkins, says he would be happier if “this charade” was over, and Greece had defaulted:

It will mean many horrible years for the Greeks, but at least the world will have to find another country to scapegoat.

The Greeks will survive, they always do, but other eurozone countries, including Germany, and Britain and America too, will struggle. I look forward to the time when Greece has forgotten this experiment with borrowed capital ( from which other countries benefited) and goes back to being what it once was – a poor little country on the south of Europe where people, despite the poverty, enjoy life.

9.58am: Greek media are reporting another resignation over the austerity plan — Pavlos Stasinos, a Pasok (socialist) MP. That would be the third since Greece’s leaders agreed to the draft agreement. Yesterday, a Pasok deputy labour minister and a New Democracy deputy both quit, saying they could not accept the demands being made on the Greek people.

9.46am: Helena Smith, our correspondent in Athens, says the mood among protestors is far from mild.

“They are crooks and thieves,” the crowds have been screaming outside the 300-seat House. “Our politicians should live on a minimum wage to see what it’s like” railed Iphighenia Kontou, a laid-off shop assistant. “What have these measures achieved? None of them have worked and they want more? ”

“We want justice,” screamed a group of hospital workers. “They are tearing down our state,” said Giorgos Klonizakis, a doctor. “People can’t get basic healthcare any more. They want us to pay off our country’s debts at the expense of everything else. Why hasn’t one person gone to prison yet for all the corruption, all the wrongdoing that got us here in the first place?”

“For a long time we accepted these measures because we understand that Greece needs change,” said a mechanic requesting anonymity. “But they’ve got us nowhere and it’s now the third year! The middle class is being torn apart. To ask for more when there is no more to cut is foolish and dangerous.”

Helena adds that the unions appear to have achieved a good turn out — what’s not clear yet is whether today’s march (like so many before) will descend into violence. She adds:

Riot police armed with stun guns and teargas cannisters are out in force — lined up in armour like medieval soldiers in the narrow streets beneath Syntagma square around the finance ministry. Most are young – much younger than many of the protestors out there.

9.25am: Update on the strikes — people are gathering in Syntagma square, the area in the centre of Athens outside its parliament.

Some are carrying loudspeakers, and Reuters reports that slogans are being chanted across the square — including:

No to layoffs! No to salary cuts! No to pension cuts! Do not bow your heads! Resist!

Teachers, hospital staff and bank employees are all joining in the strike, although we don’t get have details of how many people are taking part in the industrial action.

There were marches on the streets of Athens on Tuesday during another general strike — turnout wasn’t as high as at some previous demos, partly due to heavy rain in the city. Today’s marches will be closely watched to show the level of public anger.

9.04am: We recently created a Flickr page called “Greece – life in an economic crisis”, where readers can upload their own pictures from the country (hat-tip Laura Oliver). It’s still open – Greek readers might wish to upload their images.

8.59am: If you’re in Greece today — we’d be very grateful to hear how the strike is affecting you. Are you taking part? Do you support the action?

Let us know in the comment below, or via email ( or Twitter (@graemewearden).

Many thanks again if you helped out with this on Tuesday.

8.51am: The Greek transport system has been disrupted this morning as the 48-hour strike called by the country’s two biggest unions gets under way.

Some railway, ferry and public transport schedules are suspended, as this picture shows.

Unions are planning to hold protests several cities, including Athens, around midday local time (10am GMT).

8.41am: Germany will vote in 17 days on whether Greece should receive its second bailout.

Klaus Ernst, the co-leader of the opposition Left party, has just told reporters that Angela Merkel briefed the leaders of the five parties in the lower parliamentary chamber about the Greek situation. According to Ernst:

We will probably have a special meeting of the Bundestag on February 27 to make decisions.

Another hurdle for the Greek bailout package to clear.

As I understand it (but I am very happy to be corrected) every eurozone parliament must give its approval to the €130bn package — in the same way that they approved the changes to the eurozone bailout fund last autumn (although Slovakia initially opposed it). The French government gave its approval last September (when the bailout was a mere €109bn).

The immediate deadline, though, is next Wednesday – when the eurogroup of finance ministers meets again.

That gives the Greek government just five days to meet the new demands, which Elizabeth Afseth of Investec says will be challenging:

Specifying another €325m in savings will not be easy and getting the party leaders to sign up for it may be even trickier with an election looming.

Although as regular commentator RobertSchuman points out below, the €325m does not represent an increase on the original target of €3.3bn of budget savings. The eurogroup is demanding deeper cuts than contained in the plan that Greece politicians agreed to on Thursday.

8.14am: Most of Europe’s stock markets have opened lower this morning. The FTSE 100 index dropped 30 points to 5864, a drop of around 0.5%.

That’s partly due to disappointment over Greece, but shares have also been dented by disappointing trade data from China suggesting the global economy is slowing.

Greek bonds have dropped in value this morning, as economist Shaun Richards points out on Twitter:

The response to the new austerity is for the one-year bond yield in Greece to rise back above 500%. Some rescue! #gfc2 #euro #eurochat

— Shaun Richards (@notayesmansecon) February 10, 2012

8.09am: Evangelos Venizelos has said that Greece must decide whether it wants to remain in the eurozone.

The Greek finance minister told journalists that the Eurogroup have left Greece with a clear choice — accept more austerity measures that its international lenders demand, or leave the euro.

Speaking after the talks broke up, Venizelos said:

From today until the next meeting of the eurogroup, our country, our homeland, our society has to think and make a definitive, strategic decision.

If we see the salvation and future of the country in the euro area, in Europe, we have to do whatever we have to do to get the program approved.

Venizelos also criticised politicians who have criticise the austerity measures forced on Greece :

Nobody can keep pretending to be the good guy….The era of easy choices and demagoguery is over.

Greek , Friday February 10, 2012 (02:09)

7.49am: Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of Luxembourg who chairs the Eurogroup*, was adamant last night that Greece had not done enough – yet – to receive a second rescue package.

Juncker said that the €325m shortfall must be addressed within days. The Greek parliament must also approve the wide-ranging reform plan, and the various leaders of its political parties must also pledge to enforce the plan.

Juncker told a press conference in Brussels his position was clear:

In short, no disbursement without implementation.

Neat, but not quite as catchy as ‘No taxation without representation’. In this case, of course, there is no shortage of taxation:

The €325m black hole in the Greek budget plan was caused by the heads of its coalition parties rejecting pension reductions. If the missing funds can’t be obtained there, prime minister Lucas Papademos will have to reach agreement on alternative spending cuts or tax rises.

* – the group of 17 finance ministers from eurozone countries

7.42am: My colleague Ian Traynor reported earlier this morning that the Troika of Greece’s lenders voiced exasperation with Greek “delaying tactics”.

Ian writes:

Despite announcements earlier that the coalition government in Athens had yielded to savage new terms from the eurozone to qualify for the bailout, the eurozone finance ministers were unimpressed. The emphasis was on first getting Greece to deliver its side of the bargain.

“On the condition that the Greek parliament takes decisions on the prior actions over the coming days, then next week we can finalise decision on the overall package,” said Olli Rehn, the European commissioner for monetary affairs.

“It’s up to the Greek government by concrete actions through legislation and other actions to convince its European partners that the second [bailout] programme can be made to work.”

7.35am: Good morning. Greece’s hopes of receiving its second rescue package received a setback overnight, as its eurozone partners warned that Athens has not met the terms of the €130bn bailout.

Meeting in Brussels last night, European finance ministers studied the plan presented by the Athens government yesterday and concluded that it was incomplete.

The European central bank, the European commission, and the International Monetary Fund are now demanding €325m in further cuts to this year’s budget before it will approve the rescue package.

The news comes as Greek workers begin a nationwide two-day strike in protest at the austerity measures that coalition leaders reluctantly signed up for this week. Unions have warned that the country now faces a “social uprising”. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds