Greek stock market falls sharply on banking sector meltdown

Athens (AFP) –


Bank shares crashed on the Athens stock exchange Monday, losing a fifth of their value within hours, as the government was seen facing an impossible choice between austerity and social unrest.

The FTSEB index of financial stocks dropped nearly 20 percent in morning business, pulling the overall market index down by more than 6 percent.

The leftist government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras last week wrapped the first phase of a fiscal review by its EU-IMF international creditors, with no agreement in sight on a controversial pension reform that has caused a social backlash against Tsipras' fragile coalition.

Protests are mounting against the reform -- which aims to slash maximum pensions -- with a general strike held last week and farmers intermittently blocking national highways and border crossings for the past three weeks.