ATHENS — Thousands of students and teachers in Greece held demonstrations in Athens and second-largest city Thessaloniki on Thursday against proposed education reforms, defying a weeklong public ban on protests imposed as part of measures to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
About 4,000 people, wearing masks to protect against the virus, marched through the streets of Athens, while another roughly 1,500 protesters demonstrated in Thessaloniki. Students and teachers oppose education reforms that include plans to set up a state security division at university campuses.
"The government in the midst of the pandemic and quarantine takes advantage of the closed schools and universities in order to vote for another unacceptable bill without any dialogue with those involved in the education," said the Greek Federation of Secondary Education State Schools Teachers (OLME) referring to the bill on universities.
On Tuesday, the government announced a ban on protests attended by more than 100 people until Feb. 1, as part of measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Violations are punishable by fines of up to 3,000 euros ($3,650) for individuals organizing rallies or demonstrations, and 5,000 euros (about $6,000) for groups or organizations.
It wasn't immediately clear if any fines would be imposed on the organizers of Thursday's protests.
Left-wing parties criticized the demonstration ban, with the main opposition Syriza party describing it as "arbitrary and undemocratic."
Greece has been under lockdown-type restrictions since early November, when a surge in coronavirus cases saw the country's health system come under strain. Although hospitalizations in intensive care units have eased somewhat, the number of new daily confirmed cases haven't fallen significantly despite the restrictions.
On Wednesday, the country reported 858 new confirmed cases and 32 new deaths. Since the start of the pandemic, the country of around 11 million people has seen a total of just over 154,000 cases and 5,724 deaths. It began a vaccination drive in the last days of December, and so far more than 213,000 vaccine shots have been administered.