Saturday 17 March 2018

Country on a knife edge as opinion on Syriza's gamble is bitterly divided

Pensioners discuss politics while waiting at a national bank’s ATM to withdraw some money in the Greek capital Athens yesterday
Pensioners discuss politics while waiting at a national bank’s ATM to withdraw some money in the Greek capital Athens yesterday
Caroline Crawford

Caroline Crawford

AS Greece remains on a knife edge, tourists visiting the country are anxious, while Greeks abroad say they have been left stranded with their bank accounts frozen.

With Athens in full tourist season, hotels around the capital remain fully booked, but an air of uncertainty has cast a shadow over the usually bustling streets.

A staff member at the Bureau de Change at Athens International Airport explained how it has been inundated in recent days with requests from tourists for small denomination bills.

While the ATMs are not restricted for tourists, massive queues have resulted in many being left without cash.

"The ATMs do work for tourists but so many are empty of money," explained a staff member.

"Tourists' cards do work in shops here, but a lot of places are not accepting them because they want to protect themselves and deal in cash.

"A lot of tourists want to have cash and it is better for them if they do.

"A big concern is that larger bills cannot be changed," the staff member added.

As thousands of pro-European demonstrators took to the streets of Athens last night, mirroring an anti-austerity gathering on Monday, opinion in the Greek capital about what the country should do remained severely divided.

Taxi driver Thomas Petsas said most of his friends and colleagues were pro-Europe, and they wanted the Greek government to return to negotiations. "We want to stay in the euro. We know that (Greek Prime Minister Alexis) Tsipras is wrong.

"I think people don't even want this vote to happen, they just want Tsipras to admit he is wrong," he said.

However, younger Greeks are not so accepting.

Many who are unemployed and struggling to get by are urging Tsipras's Syriza-led government to stand firm.

"It is not as bad as the media are saying here right now.

"Tsipras is doing the right thing, said Kostaz, a young worker in the city centre.

"We have had five years of these cuts and they still want more. We need to be the first country in Europe to stand up and say No," he added.

He dismissed the calls of pro-European protesters, who claim many in the country are being misled by the Greek government.

"Everyone of my age is voting No.

"Everywhere on social media it is the same, people want to see the Government take a stand," he added.

While the number of tourists has not diminished as a result of the uncertainty, Mr Petsas said he had witnessed a dramatic fall-off in business, mostly due to the fact that locals are staying indoors.

"On a night like this with rain, this street should be filled with cars, but nobody is coming out.

"People do not know what is going to happen and they are worried. Even the weather is sad," he added.

He claimed that many Greek tourists and business travellers abroad have been left stranded.

"I know people who have had to ring the embassy to ask for their accounts to be unfrozen. They are asking for a special exception because they can't get home," he added.

Irish Independent

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