Thousands gather in Athens for protest called after ECB decision

Thousands of people gathered in front of the Greek parliament in Athens on Thursday evening in support of the new government’s efforts to renegotiate Greece’s international loans and end austerity.

Responding to a call on social media, the crowd estimated by police at 5,000-strong stood in silence on Syntagma Square, the scene of violent protests at the height of the Greek economic crisis in 2012.

“It’s the first demonstration in favour of a Greek government. Finally we have a government which respects its campaign promises and defends the interests of our country,” Telemaque Papatheodorou, an engineer in his 30s, told AFP.

The protest was called following the decision by the European Central Bank late Wednesday to cut off a vital source of funds for Greece’s banks.

In a statement late Wednesday, the ECB said that it would no longer allow Greek banks to use government debt as collateral for loans, depriving the banks of a key source of cash.

Germany is also holding firm against the efforts by the hard-left government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to restructure its mountain of debt and to ease years of painful austerity measures.

“The decision by the ECB demonstrates the pressure on Greece, but that’s nothing compared to the problems of people who are starving or suicidal,” said Dimitra Spyridopoulou, a lawyer.

Nikoletta, a 55-year-old who did not want to give her full name, said her son had left Greece a year ago to work abroad because there were no jobs for him at home.

“The previous governments, left and right, talked about economic recovery but they did nothing,” she said, saying it helped no one for Greece to be “strangled”.

Stavroula Drakopoulou, a 55-year-old teacher, added: “We have nothing to lose, that’s why we’re defending the government.”

One of the government’s first acts last week was to halt a series of privatizations imposed as part of the bailout program.

“At least they won’t sell off all our state assets,” Drakopoulou said.

About 500 people also gathered on Thursday evening in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city, holding up banners proclaiming “No to blackmail” by the ECB.