Crisis in Athens as it confronts exit from the euro zone | world | Hindustan Times
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Crisis in Athens as it confronts exit from the euro zone

world Updated: Feb 11, 2012 23:20 IST

Greece is facing an acute political and social crisis this weekend as the bankrupt state prepares to decide whether it can stay in the single currency.

As riot police clashed with protesters on the streets of Athens, and five ministers resigned in protest at the scale of the spending cuts demanded in return for a new €130bn (£108bn) bailout, Evangelos Venizelos, the Greek finance minister and socialist leader, said the country had until Sunday to choose whether to swallow the eurozone medicine of more cuts – or default on its debt next month and be forced out of the euro.

In an emotional speech he said: "The choice we face is one of sacrifice or even greater sacrifice – on a scale that cannot be compared. 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 programme approved."

Police ringed the Greek parliament building following the failure of eurozone finance ministers to approve the new bailout for Greece. Prime minister Lucas Papademos had offered new austerity measures worth €3.3bn to secure the euro lifeline, but he was told the cash would not be forthcoming until savings of an additional €325m were identified. He was told to get the €3.3bn programme endorsed and come up with a plan for the new cuts – to plug a gap in this year's budget – by Sunday.

George Karatzaferis, a Greek coalition leader, spoke of national humiliation and said he would not accept the new cuts, adding that Greece was labouring "under the German boot".

The scenes of violence in Athens shattered the mood of calm that has characterised the financial markets this year.

The French and German stock markets closed down around 1.5%.