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22 Feb, 2012 15:01

Downgrades and demos: Greek malaise continues

Greece braces for fresh round of protests as a historical bailout package comes with austerity measures many refuse to stomach. Further rocking the boat, a downgrade on Greece’s sovereign debt has cast a dark cloud over already stormy waters.

In the wake of an unprecedented 237-billion-euro bailout deal signed by eurozone finance ministers Tuesday, Athens was sideswiped by a two notch sovereign debt downgrade – from CCC to C – by international ratings agency Fitch.A statement released by Fitch said a Greek debt default was "highly likely in the near term," the Associated Press reports.George Katrougalos, a lawyer and professor of constitutional law in Athens, told RT predictions of an imminent Greek default coming on the heels of the newly secured bailout deal should surprise no one."It is the third time we’re hearing about the final salvation of Greece, and every time the aftermath is a nightmare; even worse than the previous time.  And the reason is very simple. These austerity measures imposed on us, the Spaniards, and the whole of the European south are not totally, socially unfair, but completely inefficient.  They’re actually condemning us to a slow death.”Uncertainty continues to linger as the Greek parliament is expected to vote on legislation to implement the bailout deal by the end of the week.As European stock markets fell and the euro remains shaky over the uncertain nature of the rescue deal, two leading Greek labor unions called for protests in Athens and the country’s second city, Thessaloniki, Wednesday over new salary and pension cuts."The measures … are another blow to the pensioners and the social security system in the country. Greeks are blackmailed and no one can tolerate it," the union said in a statement, AFP reports.The pro-communist union Pame followed suite by announcing a planned march to Athens’ central Syntagma Square.Syntagma has been the scene of often violent anti austerity protests over the last two years.However, while several thousand trade unionists, pensioners and communists showed up on Syntagma Square Wednesday to demonstrate in front of the national assembly, organizers attribute the low turnout to protest fatigue and the relatively inclement weather.Under the default averting rescue deal, Greece will receive more than 130 billion euro in loans and a 53.5 per cent write down on privately held Greek sovereign debt that amounts to an additional 107 billion euro.However, the deal hinges on a series of austerity cuts which must be passed before elections are held this April.It then must be confirmed by a 151-seat majority in the new parliament.But broad-ranging cuts to the country’s social safety net amid a deeply-entrenched five-year recession that has left unemployment soaring at over 20 per cent could leave the economic burden for ordinary Greeks too much to bear.