Pro-euro protest draws thousands in Athens

Demonstration outside parliament as Syriza figures urge leadership to hold firm

Pro-Euro protesters take part in a rally in front of the parliament  in Athens. Photograph:   Milos Bicanski/Getty

Pro-Euro protesters take part in a rally in front of the parliament in Athens. Photograph: Milos Bicanski/Getty

 

Thousands of Greeks rallied in front of the national parliament last night to show support for the country’s place in the euro zone, but influential voices within the ruling Syriza party urged the leadership to hold firm to its election pledges.

The pro-euro rally at Syntagma Square, the second such demonstration in a week, came a day after an anti-austerity protest in support of prime minister Alexis Tsipras’s tough stance towards Greece’s international creditors.

As Mr Tsipras was sitting down with European Union leaders in Brussels to find a way of averting a Greek default, demonstrators in Athens hoisted EU flags and banners with slogans such as “Yes to the Euro, No to the Rouble” – a dig at Mr Tsipras’s recent overtures to Russia.

An opinion poll on Sunday showed 63 per cent of Greeks had a positive opinion of the euro – though that was down from 76 per cent in February – and 62 per cent felt things would be worse if the country returned to the drachma.

As talks intensify, Mr Tsipras and his entourage are coming under pressure from Syriza’s left wing to hold firm to the party’s election commitments.

In an interview with Greek television, deputy labour Minister Dimitris Stratoulis said: “I repeat: the deal will either be compatible with the basic lines of Syriza’s election manifesto, or there will be no deal.”

Mr Stratoulis said Mr Tsipras was “negotiating with this in mind,” underlining the tightrope the Greek prime minister is walking as he weighs the demands of the troika and his domestic political imperatives.

Mr Stratoulis repeated the government message that austerity had made Greece’s plight worse, and that its creditors would suffer more than Greece itself if the country were to leave the euro zone.

“So far the lenders have not backed down, mainly because if they had backed down or do back down they would accept that the bailout policies destroyed Greece and its people.”

Greece would refuse to cut pensions and wages, and rejected demands to curb early retirement benefits immediately, he said, but added that such benefits could be cut at a later date. “We are not afraid of blackmail, and our priority is the public interest,” he said.

Greece must repay the International Monetary Fund €1.6 billion by June 30th or be declared in default, potentially triggering a bank run and capital controls.

Greek banks opened yesterday and long queues did not form at ATMs, but with nervous Greek savers and firms withdrawing billions of euro in cash from accounts in recent weeks, the country’s banks are almost entirely dependent on European Central Bank (ECB) funding.

After increasing emergency credit for Greek lenders to about €86 billion last week, the ECB agreed to a further €2 billion of such emergency liquidity assistance (ELA) yesterday, Reuters reported.

Austria’s central bank chief Ewald Nowotny said the governing council, which is made up of central bank chiefs from around the euro zone and the ECB’s executive, would talk again to discuss the outcome of last night EU leaders’ summit.

Mr Tsipras held a series of meetings with central figures including ECB president Mario Draghi and IMF head Christine Lagarde before the summit but neither he nor finance minister Yanis Varoufakis made any public comment.

In a statement on Sunday night, Mr Tsipras’s office said his revised proposals to the troika were an attempt to achieve a “definitive” solution to the problems besetting his country.