Greece is facing an acute political and social crisis this weekend as the bankrupt state prepares to decide whether it can stay in the single currency.
As riot police clashed with protesters on the streets of Athens, and five ministers resigned in protest at the scale of the spending cuts demanded in return for a new €130bn (£108bn) bailout, Evangelos Venizelos, the Greek finance minister and socialist leader, said the country had until Sunday to choose whether to swallow the eurozone medicine of more cuts – or default on its debt next month and be forced out of the euro.
In an emotional speech he said: “The choice we face is one of sacrifice or even greater sacrifice – on a scale that cannot be compared. Our country, our homeland, our society has to think and make a definitive, strategic decision. If we see the salvation and future of the country in the euro area, in Europe, we have to do whatever we have to do to get the programme approved.”
On Saturday night, Lucas Papademos, the Greek prime minister, told the nation in a televised address that a rejection of the deal 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.”
In Germany, Angela Merkel was reported to have warned her centre-right MPs of “uncontrollable consequences” for the eurozone should Greece become the first euro nation to declare sovereign default on its soaring debt.
UPDATE: Parts of Athens in flames today:
Fireballs lit up the night sky in Greece’s capital as buildings were set ablaze late Sunday amid widespread rioting and looting before a historic parliamentary vote expected to approve harsh austerity measures demanded to keep the country from going bankrupt and within the eurozone.
At least 10 buildings, including a closed cinema, a bank, a mobile phone dealership, a glassware store and a cafeteria, were on fire. There were no immediate reports of people trapped inside. Dozens of shops were also looted in the worst damage the country has seen since unrest in December 2008 following the fatal police shooting of a teenager.
I am hearing that there are realistic fears that an economic collapse will bring about a military coup to preserve civil order.