ATHENS: Thousands of Greeks took part in demonstrations Sunday to mark the anniversary of a 1973 anti-junta uprising, with police bracing for trouble after a series of raids on anarchists.
This year the protest looks set to be dominated by opposition to the new conservative government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis, elected in July on a pledge to strengthen law and order.
Some 5,500 people marched in Athens, police said, in remembrance of dozens of people who died in the 1973 military crackdown on a student uprising at the Athens Polytechnic.
The annual march regularly descends into violence and some 5,000 officers were mobilised for the day, backed by drones, a helicopter and water cannon, police said.
The demonstration marks the 46th anniversary of the student uprising.
At least 24 people were killed in the crackdown, an event generally considered to have broken the US-backed junta’s grip on power and helped the restoration of democracy.
The bloodstained flag that flew over the Polytechnic’s iron gate, which was crushed by a tank that night, is traditionally carried at the head of the demonstration in the capital.
Separate demonstrations are being held in Greece’s other major cities.
Athens mayor Kostas Bakoyannis urged respect for the city.
“On this anniversary, let’s send out the right message. A shared message about memory. We should not obscure the essence which is the struggle of youth for democracy. On this anniversary, let’s show respect toward the city,” he said in a Facebook message on Friday.
In recent years, demonstrators have used the anniversary to voice opposition to US “imperialism“, and the harsh austerity measures imposed on Greece by international creditors after the global financial crisis.
Mitsotakis’s administration has recently come under fire over a flurry of police operations against anarchist squats and demonstrators.
There is also tension over a recent amendment to facilitate police checks in universities, which has prompted several student demonstrations.
“Police have no place in universities... but neither does lawlessness,” Citizen’s Protection Minister Michalis Chrysohoidis told To Vima weekly on Sunday.
This week the Polytechnic’s rector Andreas Bantouvas said: “We need to be careful these days, and (public) comments must be guarded.”
Throwing a Molotov cocktail – a fairly frequent occurrence at demonstrations in Greece – will now be punishable by up to 10 years in prison, instead of five years previously.
“Laws and regulations are needed for Greek citizens to feel safe,” Justice Minister Kostas Tsiaras told lawmakers ahead of the vote in parliament.
On Monday, some 200 students demonstrating at the Athens University of Economics were surrounded by anti-riot police who used tear gas and arrested two protesters.
The anti-junta demonstration is a treasured anniversary for many Greeks, with over 10,000 people taking part last year. - AFP