Greece ‘a breath away from ground zero’, PM warns

By Emma Rowley
Telegraph UK

He told the nation in a televised address on Saturday that a rejection of the deal today would lead to “uncontrollable economic chaos and social explosion”. “This agreement will decide the country’s future,” he said. “We are just a breath away from ground zero.”

Amid scenes of continued mounting social unrest, politicians must today decide whether to sign off fresh austerity measures demanded by the country’s international lenders in order to release a second €130bn aid package to Athens.

The rescue must be secured by March 20 in order to stave off bankruptcy. It is on that date that the Greek government has to pay back €14.5bn of its debt to holders of its bonds. Mr Papademos said parliament had a historic responsibility to back the bill, or face catastrophic consequences if Greece misses the deadline to service its debt.

“A disorderly default would set the country on a disastrous adventure,” he said. “It would create conditions of uncontrolled economic chaos and social explosion.” “The country would be drawn into a vortex of recession, instability, unemployment and protracted misery and this would sooner or later lead the country out of the euro.”

Sunday’s debate in the full 300-seat chamber is scheduled to begin at 1200 GMT and a vote is expected late in the evening.

Ahead of the crucial vote Evangelos Venizelos, the Greek finance minister, confirmed that Greece’s “troika” of rescuers – the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – are considering whether the €130bn bailout should be increased by at least another €15bn to shore up the country’s banks.
“The banks need more money, and their idea is for financing in 2015 too,” he said.

Greece has already been the subject of a €110bn bailout, in 2010, which failed to solve its grave budgetary problems.

The new package of financial aid comes on condition of painful spending cuts, the prospect of which are sparking fury among the Greek people, who are mired in a deep recession. The measures include a 22pc drop in the minimum wage, civil servant redundancies and cuts to pensions.

Thousands of protestors massed in Athens yesterday after the Greek cabinet approved the plans late on Friday night, while a general strike brought public transport to a halt in the capital.

The interim coalition government led by Mr Papademos has a large majority, which should mean Sunday night’s parliamentary vote backs the deeply unpopular measures. But defections look likely. Six members of the coalition government have already resigned in protest over the budget plans – four from the far right, and two socialists.

Leaders from across the political spectrum urged their followers to stomach their anger and back the plans, designed to save around 7pc of Greece’s gross domestic product over three years.
“We have to sacrifice a lot so as not to sacrifice everything,” said George Papandreou, the former prime minister and current leader of the socialist Pasok party. “We must speak honestly and tell Greeks what bankruptcy really means. It means chaos.”

Antonis Samaras, the leader of Greece’s conservative New Democracy party, said the bailout “distances us from bankruptcy, looting, the chaos that would follow” in the absence of a rescue package.

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