By Stefanos Evripidou
SEVERAL thousand people gathered in Nicosia on Saturday morning, to protest austerity measures imposed as part of Cyprus’ international bailout.
Protesters marched from the finance ministry to the Presidential Palace, carrying banners and chanting slogans against “harsh austerity” and the troika of lenders.
Demonstrators called for growth and jobs, not austerity, poverty and the unravelling of the social state. People held banners saying “Hands off pensioners” and “We demand dignified pensions”.
The protest was organised by 16 unions and organisations, led by PEO workers’ union, affiliated to the former ruling party AKEL, and EDEK-affiliated union DEOK.
Organisations representing students, school children, bank employees, pensioners, large families, farmers and others had agreed to participate, while the Greens and Citizens’ Alliance also lent their support.
The wife of former president Demetris Christofias, Elsi, attended, while AKEL leader Andros Kyprianou turned up briefly, having been double-booked, after the president called an informal meeting of party leaders to discuss the Cyprus problem.
At the Palace, the crowd dispersed relatively fast, perhaps eager to enjoy the sunshine that had not shown its face for a while. By midday, all that remained of the “mass mobilisation” was a placard on the Palace roundabout saying: “Merry Crisis and a Happy New Fear”.
Considering the amount of people actually affected by the crisis, and the fact organisers went to great lengths to arrange bus transportation from dozens of locations around the island, the few thousand that did show up did not seem to merit the predictions of a mass rally of rage against austerity.
A number of organisations had dropped out at the last minute, like secondary and technical school teachers unions OELMEK and OLTEK, due to disagreement over the focus of the protest. The two dissenting unions said they had originally planned to participate in the anti-troika rally but withdrew as it became too politically-charged, with the focus shifting from anti-austerity to anti-privatisations and anti-government.
The European Commission, the ECB, and IMF, collectively known as the troika, bailed out Cyprus to the tune of €10 billion in March, demanding in return a raid on uninsured deposits in the island’s two biggest banks.