3 die in rioting over Greek austerity steps
ATHENS — Rioting over harsh austerity measures left three people dead in a torched Athens bank and clouds of tear gas drifting past Parliament, an outburst of anger that underlined the difficult struggle Greece faces with painful cutbacks accompanying an international bailout.
The deaths were the first during a protest in Greece in nearly 20 years.
Fear that the bailout won’t stop the debt crisis from spreading to other financially troubled EU countries like Portugal and Spain intensified yesterday as the credit rating agency Moody’s put Portugal on watch for a possible downgrade.
The euro sank below $1.29 for the first time in over a year.
Greece faces a May 19 due date on debt it says it can’t repay without help. The new cutbacks, which slash salaries and pensions for civil servants and raise consumer taxes, are a condition of getting a $142.16 billion package of rescue loans from the International Monetary Fund and the other 15 European Union countries that use the euro.
Many Greeks realize some cutbacks are necessary to pull their country, which has a massive debt of $387.7 billion, back from the brink of default. But with people beginning to feel the pain of austerity measures, anger boiled over. Economists say Greeks face years of living with less to have even a chance of avoiding national bankruptcy.
An estimated 100,000 people took to the streets during a nationwide general strike that grounded flights, shut all services, and pulled news broadcasts off the air.
Three bank workers died of smoke inhalation after demonstrators torched their bank.
A senior fire department official said demonstrators prevented firefighters from reaching the burning building. “Several crucial minutes were lost,’’ the official said.
In Brussels, EU officials tried to calm fears that Greece’s crisis was spreading, insisting it was a unique case.