Athens wakes up from night of rage to dawn of austerity

Greeks find little to celebrate in new deal on debt bailout
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The Independent Online

The acrid smell of tear gas and charred debris lingered in the vandalised streets of Athens yesterday as clearing operations began and shopkeepers counted their losses after Sunday's five hours of rioting.

Cash dispensers were damaged, traffic lights near the parliament building were out of order and debris remained strewn on the streets, as the city took stock of the damage caused in clashes between the police and rioters protesting against the additional austerity measures approved by Greek politicians on Sunday night.

They agreed to push through the cuts to secure a much-needed €130bn bailout ahead of an upcoming – and, without the aid, unaffordable – bond repayment in March. Eurozone finance ministers are scheduled to meet tomorrow and announce the terms of the new deal. The bloc's economic heavyweight Germany, however, remained cautious even after the vote.

"Now we need to wait and see what comes after the legislation," the German Economy Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Philipp Rösler, said on television. "We have taken one step in the right direction but we are still far from the goal."

But before that, on Sunday night, more than 40 shops were vandalised, half were looted while marble was smashed and ripped out of building façades to use as projectiles against the authorities. A blaze also swept through the ancient Stadiou street as protesters torched stores.

"It was God," said Andreas Triandafillidis, as he attempted to explain how his 90-year-old clothes shop survived the blaze that wrecked neighbouring stores and the cinema nearby. He'll have to pay some €3,000 (£2,500) for the smashed marble. Experience tells him insurance companies are unlikely to cover the cost. They reimbursed only a fifth of the damage he sustained two years ago during a protest that saw the bank next door burn down, killing four people.

Three fire engines remained on the opposite side of the block of Mr Triandafillidis's shop as firemen struggled to put out a blaze that had raged for nearly 12 hours, according to the authorities on site. "This building is close to collapse" said a fireman.

Stunned pedestrians crowded the surrounding streets, while some took pictures of the blackened structures that until Sunday night included a glassware store and a cinema. An association of film lovers planned to stage a vigil yesterday evening in honour of the damaged cinema, which had survived the country's Nazi occupation.

The shoe shop of Panayotis Karaiskos, on the popular Ermou shopping street, was also caught in the mayhem. "We are all counting our losses; at least they didn't burn my shop," the resigned shopkeeper said.

Mr Karaiskos was forced to replace his window display after it was shattered during the protests. "I have to pay around €2,000 to €3,000 to have it replaced ... that's until they break it again."

The head of the Greek Commerce Confederation, Vassilis Korkidis lambasted the state's inability to protect the property. "The city looks bombarded," he said. "Many of the stores are so damaged they will be forced to shut and fire their staff."

Among ordinary people, signs of exasperation over Greece's lagging reforms are increasingly palpable. As politicians from Athens prepared to meet European leaders and lenders, most Greeks continued to question the benefits of the fresh round of austerity measures.

"None of the money from the bailout will go to Greece's survival. The help is to repay the lenders and the markets," said Anastasia Kotsopoulou, a psychologist and the mother of three children. "This money isn't for Greece's survival."