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Greek students, teachers defy weeklong ban on protests

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Students and teachers take part in a rally against education reforms in Athens, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. Thousands of protesters in Greece have held demonstrations in the Greek capital and the second largest city of Thessaloniki against proposed education reforms, defying a weeklong public ban on protests imposed as part of measures to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS – Thousands of students and teachers held peaceful demonstrations in Greece's two biggest cities Thursday against proposed education reforms, defying a weeklong ban on protests imposed as part of measures to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

About 4,000 people, wearing masks against the virus, marched through the streets of Athens, while another roughly 1,500 demonstrated in the northern city of Thessaloniki. Protesters oppose reforms that include plans to set up a state security division at university campuses.

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. The protests ended peacefully in the early afternoon.

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 COVID-19 infections placed the health system under strain. Although hospitalizations in intensive care units have eased somewhat, the number of new daily cases hasn't fallen significantly despite the restrictions.

On Wednesday, authorities reported 858 new confirmed infections and 32 new deaths. The country of around 11 million people has registered a total of just over 154,000 infections and 5,724 deaths. It began a vaccination drive in the last days of December, and so far more than 213,000 shots have been administered.