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Hit By Crisis, Greek Society In Free-fall

"Our society is on a razor's edge," Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias said recently, after striking shipyard workers broke into the grounds of the Defense Ministry. "If we can't contain ourselves, if we can't maintain our social cohesion, if we can't continue to act within the rules ... I fear we will end up being a jungle."

CRUMBLING LIVING STANDARDS

Vassilis Tsiknopoulos, runs a stall at Athens' central fish market and has been working since age 15. He used to make a tidy profit, he says, pausing to wrap red mullet in a paper cone for a customer. But families can't afford to spend much anymore, and many restaurants have shut down.

The 38-year-old fishmonger now barely breaks even.

"I start work at 2:30 a.m. and work 'till the afternoon, until about 4 p.m. Shouldn't I have something to show for that? There's no point in working just to cover my costs. ... Tell me, is this a life?"

The fish market's president, Spyros Korakis, says there has been a 70 percent drop in business over the past three years. Above the din of fish sellers shouting out prices and customers jostling for a better deal, Korakis explained how the days of big spenders were gone, with people buying ever smaller quantities and choosing cheaper fish.

Private businesses have closed down in the thousands. Unemployment stands at a record 25 percent, with more than half of Greece's young people out of work. Caught between plunging incomes and ever increasing taxes, families are finding it hard to make ends meet. Higher heating fuel prices have meant many apartment tenants have opted not to buy heating fuel this year. Instead, they'll make do with blankets, gas heaters and firewood to get through the winter. Lines at soup kitchens have grown longer.

At the end of the day, as the fish market gradually packed up, a beggar crawled around the stalls, picking up the fish discarded onto the floor and into the gutters.

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