A motorcylist with his passenger holding a Greek flag
Athens - AFP
Cheering and chanting, thousands of Greeks who voted to say 'No' to bailout austerity measures crowded into central Athens on Sunday to celebrate a landslide referendum victory, seemingly oblivious to the threats facing the near-insolvent country.
Punching the air, the 'No' camp exulted as the news came through that at least 60 percent of voters had rejected international creditors' demands.
"I'm so happy," said 37-year old Dima Rousso, adding that she hadn't expected there to be such a clear margin between the 'No' votes and the 'Yes' votes.
"This is Europe's chance to become what it should have been in the beginning," she said.
Young couples kissed at the fountain in front of parliament in the symbolic Syntagma square, the scene of violent anti-austerity riots in the past, as teens drove by on scooters, blaring their horns, Greek flags held high and streaming in the wind.
"This is a victory for the Greek people, a chance for Europe," said Giorgos, 25, who had rushed along with his girlfriend to join some 6,000 people celebrating their triumph.
"Spain, and then Portugal, should follow this path. We're for a Europe of the people," he said, brushing off concerns the result could see the debt-laden country plunge further into the financial mire.
There was no mention of the scenes repeated across Greece this week of closed banks and food stockpiling that left supermarket shelves bare. While the future was unknown, for many celebrating on the streets it now had a fresh glow of hope.
- 'Greeks not afraid' -
Despite doomsayers who have warned a 'No' vote may well see the country crash out of the eurozone in a so-called "Grexit", Giorgos insisted: "Greeks are not afraid".
Support swelled for the 'No' camp not just because Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called for Greeks to turn the bailout offer down, but because Europe had tried to interfere, he said.
While many of those who voted 'No' were youths hit by record jobless rates, there were also elderly people in the crowds, wrapped in Greek flags and dancing in time with the victory chants.
A mechanic in his sixties named Giorgos said that Germans -- viewed by many as Greece's nemeses in Europe -- "were not counting on a great Greek victory".
An elated George Stasinopoulos, 25, grinning through his big brown beard, said "the governments of Europe don't support us but their people do, and that gives us courage!"
"I believe in Tsipras and in this government. It wants the best for us," he said.
But the mood of jubilation was not shared by all 'No' voters, with some saying they had been confronted with an impossible choice.
Nika Spenzes, 33 and unemployed, was walking in the opposite direction of the party.
"I'm not happy -- we cannot be happy as a nation with this unemployment and poverty. And a 'No' victory doesn't mean there's any more hope for Greece than before," she said.
And even 'Yes' voters were ambivalent about their camp's apparent defeat.
Paris, a 41-year-old dentist, said she was resigned rather than sad because, with the dire state of Greece's finances and Tsipras in power, there was "no real hope either way."
"I respect the Nos, they are not rebels with no dreams, they represent the suffering Greek people. But I do not think Greece's leaders are ready" for the consequences, she said.