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UK protesters make Greece debt plea


A demonstrator holds a sign during an earlier protest over Greece's debt repayments

A demonstrator holds a sign during an earlier protest over Greece's debt repayments

A demonstrator holds a sign during an earlier protest over Greece's debt repayments

Protesters in Britain today urged the cancellation of Greece's debt as voters in the country's referendum prepared to go to the polls.

Events took place in support of the Greek people as they decide whether to accept an austerity package put forward by international lenders in return for a further bailout from the eurozone rescue fund.

Many Greeks living in the UK are returning there to vote while those who are unable to return at short notice say it is "always on their mind" as their concern for family members grows.

Greek citizens living in the UK can only take part in the referendum if they return to Greece to cast their vote.

Rallies were taking place today in London's Trafalgar Square, Leeds, Liverpool, Bristol and Edinburgh, with another tomorrow in Manchester.

The London event featured speakers including Green leader Natalie Bennett, who said afterwards: "I wanted to express sympathy to the Greek people, for the pressure they are under, and the misery they are living in. They are under enormous pressure from unemployment, poverty, the EU institutions and the EU financial institutions.

"I think they should vote 'no', it's a decision for them, but they clearly are a country that can't take more austerity, more of this suffering, more of this pain.

"The EU institutions have to recognise that there has to be debt forgiveness for Greece, a package for gradual repayment, and allowance for essential government spending."

Jonathan Stevenson, campaigns officer for the Jubilee Debt campaign, which seeks cancellation of unjust debts, said: "There needs to be a conference of European countries to discuss debt cancellation for Greece. Debt cancellation needs to take place however Greece votes tomorrow."

One of the approximately 1,000 people attending the event outside the National Gallery, a 28-year-old Greek software engineer living in London who gave his name only as Giorgos, said he would have been voting "no" if he was at home at the moment.

"It would be for many reasons, including to save democracy, because the institutions want to change our government for a government of technocrats, who will say yes to everything, and to improve our negotiating position with other countries, to negotiate a far better deal. "

Andrew Burgin, from Greece Solidarity Campaign, said: "As Greece approaches this crucial day, we stand with the people.

"Huge numbers rallied yesterday in Athens' Syntagma Square. We want to show the huge support that there is for them in Britain and across Europe.

"Greeks are standing firm in the face of financial blackmail. The only answer to this crisis is to admit the debt is impossible to pay, and cancel it."

Banks have been closed all week in Greece to prevent a run driven by savers withdrawing cash amid uncertainty about whether the country will crash out of the euro, after falling into arrears with the International Monetary Fund.

Tomorrow's referendum has been called by left-wing prime minister Alexis Tsipras, who has promised to ease austerity after six years of recession.

Mr Tsipras, 40, is gambling the future of his left-wing government on tomorrow's snap poll, insisting a no vote will strengthen his hand to negotiate a third bailout with better terms.

If he loses, he has strongly indicated he would step aside.