Thousands of protesters occupied the streets of Athens on Friday in a bid to stop the austerity plan Greek leaders hammered out to appease the country’s creditors. Greece’s partners in the eurozone have now put the deal on hold less than 24 hours after it was struck, sending stock markets plunging over fears that a Greek default in March could rattle financial markets around the world. Greece’s austerity plan includes cutting 22 per cent off the minimum wage, as well as slashing one in five government jobs. Severe cuts to health, military and social security are also included in the deal.
About 7,000 protesters gathered outside the Greek parliament, where demonstrators clashed with police in running battles that featured fire bombs, stones, and tear gas. Another 10,000 Communist supporters protested peacefully in a separate march. When the deal was announced Thursday morning, things seemed to be heading toward Greece being able to cash in on a $173-billion bailout package to avoid defaulting ahead of a March 20 deadline to implement a bond swap deal that could help pay off at least part of the Greek debt. But European finance ministers reacted negatively to the deal, saying Greek leaders still needed to find an extra $430 million in savings, pass the deal through parliament, and guarantee in writing that the austerity measures would take effect even after elections scheduled for April. Greece’s creditors have given the country’s leaders until the middle of next week to meet those requirements. Otherwise, Greece is risking bankruptcy and a possible departure from the eurozone.