x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Greek strike turns to riot as debt crisis ignites market fears

Thousands demonstrate across Greece as workers across the nation hold a general strike, bringing airports, tourist sites and public services to a standstill.

Authorities declared a state of emergency in the Greek capital after demonstrators tried to storm the parliament building yesterday. John Kolesidis / Reuters
Authorities declared a state of emergency in the Greek capital after demonstrators tried to storm the parliament building yesterday. John Kolesidis / Reuters

Three people were killed in a firebomb attack on a bank in Athens yesterday as violent protests against austerity measures hurled Greece into chaos and fuelled global market fears that Europe's debt crisis may be spiralling out of control. Police said two women and one man burned to death in a branch of the Marfin-Egnatia bank after masked demonstrators set it ablaze with firebombs.

A government building next door was also set alight. Earlier, authorities had declared a state of emergency in the Greek capital as hundreds of demonstrators tried to storm the parliament building and fought running battles with riot police. Police fired tear gas canisters to disperse stone-throwing rioters. More than 100,000 people had marched through Athens to demonstrate against pension cuts, wage freezes and tax increases announced by the government in return for a ?110 billion (Dh523bn) aid package from the EU and IMF to stave off a Greek debt default.

Thousands also demonstrated in other Greek cities and workers across the nation held a general strike, bringing airports, tourist sites and public services to a standstill. The news of the three deaths shocked the nation and a ghostly calm had descended on the Greek capital by the late afternoon. The protests unsettled world markets and pushed the euro single currency down below US$1.29 to its lowest levels in more than a year as investors speculated that Greek public opposition to the cutbacks might make it impossible for the government to gets its finances in order.

Meanwhile, German finance officials warned that the euro zone was under attack from financial speculators and that the crisis could spread to Spain and Portugal, two euro zone members also struggling to cope with large budget deficits. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said Europe's future was at stake in the crisis. "This is about nothing less than the future of Europe and thereby the future of Germany in Europe," she said in a statement to parliament.

"Europe is at a crossroads." Speaking during the first hearing in parliament for emergency legislation to approve ?22.4 billion in German aid for Greece in the next three years, Mrs Merkel said bailing out Greece was essential for the stability of the single currency. business@thenational.ae