Greek PM is hero and villain at rival rallies in divided Athens

Athens (AFP) - A warrior for the "No" supporters, an "emperor with no clothes" for the "Yes" camp -- thousands of people demonstrated at rival rallies in Athens Friday where Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was both hero and villain.

Over 25,000 Greeks gathered in the shadow of the parliament for the "No" rally while another 22,000 people filled a square in front of a nearby stadium, two days ahead of a bailout referendum to determine the country's financial future.

"I'm not going to cry, I'm not going to be afraid, I'm going to say 'No'!" chanted Tsipras supporters as they descended on Syntagma square -- the scene of violent anti-austerity riots in the past.

Tsipras, wearing a crisp white shirt and walking with a swagger, was escorted from the PM's office to the square by 200 or so supporters, who cheered and whooped as the world's media looked on.

Addressing the crowd, he called on Greeks to vote "No" so the country could "live with dignity in Europe".

His speech was the highlight, but the punters stayed for the live concert: heaving crowds of mainly youngsters, families and unemployed people swaying in time to popular songs from left-wing Greek performers.

"We want to be out own bosses, we want to decide for ourselves," said 51-year-old teacher Katerina.

"The (austerity) measures we were forced to take have made the situation worse," she said, as Tsipras's closest advisor Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis signed autographs for children in the crowd.

- 'Outside euro lies misery' -

The PM has urged Greeks to say "No", insisting it will strengthen his hand in negotiations with the country's creditors -- but EU leaders have warned the vote is essentially on whether or not to stay in the eurozone.

It's an idea that has spooked "Yes" voters, who fewer than 800 metres away were holding a rather more sedate rally of their own, complete with pro-Europe banners and Greek and European flags.

On a leafy avenue in front of the Panathenaic Stadium -- reconstructed in marble from the remains of an ancient stadium -- protesters including entrepreneurs, chefs and lawyers said "enough" to Tsipras.

"They cannot pretend any longer that it's not about leaving the euro... and outside the euro lies only misery," said Nikos, 43, a doctor proudly wearing a white and green "NAI" (yes) T-shirt and munching a freshly roasted cob of sweetcorn from a street stand.

Greek pop music blared from speakers and young people in shirts and suits, straight from the office, cracked open cans of beer in the last rays of the evening sun.

But many faces were drawn or pinched with anxiety as demonstrators confessed they thought Sunday's referendum was going to be an extremely tight race.

"We know austerity is hard but without sacrifices and demonstrating to others we are willing, we will be cast out and alone," said Mary Papadopoulo, a 37-year-old accountant.

"Lots of my friends are going to vote 'No', because they still believe Tsipras will negotiate, they can't see the emperor has no clothes," she sighed.