By Evie Andreou
AROUND 4,000 protesters participated in the mass anti–austerity rally on Wednesday evening outside the Filoxenia conference centre in Nicosia while the European Central Bank’s (ECB) two-day council meeting got underway.
Ordinary workers, employees from semi-government organisations, teachers, unemployed, pensioners, farmers and students from all towns and demonstrators from Greece, Portugal, Austria, Serbia, France and Italy gathered at three meeting points and marched at 5pm to the conference centre to protest against the harsh austerity measures imposed by the ECB and the Troika of international lenders, that also includes the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund.
The ECB board, including boss Mario Draghi, are in Nicosia on Wednesday and Thursday as part of their scheduled two annual meetings outside of Frankfurt. The main issue that will be discussed is the quantitative easing programme that comes into effect later this month to buy some €1.1trn worth of bonds from national central banks and spur the European economy.
Members of ‘The society reacts and demands’ progressive platform that organised the rally, presented to a representative of Draghi a memo asking for policies that will lead to growth and new jobs, an end to the reduction of social cuts, and the introduction of anti-poverty programmes.
The memo also asked for transparency and democratisation of the decision making processes of the EU and the ECB.
The protesters, members of some 20 organisations, held banners with slogans that said ‘No more austerity, we demand dignity’, and ‘Cypriot society can’t take this anymore’.
The turnout was so big that it caused congestion, especially at the entrance to Nicosia, police said but no other problems were reported.
Draghi had been widely blamed in Cyprus for the bank meltdown in March 2013, that led to the depositors’ haircut and to the subsequent €10bn bailout deal that put the island in an austerity programme.
He is seen as primarily responsible for authorising the transfer of billions in emergency liquidity assistance (ELA) to prop up Laiki Bank despite the fact the bank was – to all intents and purposes – broke and despite that for a bank to be eligible for ELA it must have adequate collateral, and be solvent.
Officials and members of AKEL, DIKO, EDEK, the Green Party and the Citizens’ Alliance were also present at the rally, while they announced that they would not participate, except from AKEL, in the formal dinner hosted later in the evening by president Nicos Anastasiades.
AKEL Secretary-general Andros Kyprianou said that he would not participate in the dinner and that going in his place would me MP Adamos Adamou.
In a stern open letter to Draghi and the ECB board, the association of the old shareholders of Bank of Cyprus, asked that he considers ways to mitigate Cyprus’ economic hardship.
The letter said that as a result of his decisions Cyprus lost €17.1bn due to the PSI, ELA and the “Sale” of Cyprus banks’ branches in Greece, a very large amount for the Cyprus economy to handle.
His decisions, the letter said, have destroyed the economy of Cyprus, using false arguments, like that of money laundering, whilst in some countries it is still thriving.
“If you cannot apply justice and treat equitably small and big countries alike, you should allow other people to succeed you,” the letter said.
After the council meeting, Draghi was to discuss with President Nicos Anastasiades the progress of Cyprus’s economic and financial reform programme agreed with international creditors.