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Greeks march to commemorate anti-junta uprising

ATHENS (UNITED STATES) (AFP) – 

Thousands of Greeks marched amid tight security on Thursday to commemorate a student uprising that helped bring down a US-backed junta in 1974.

Around 15,000 people, according to a police source, took part in the annual march to the US Embassy in Athens to mark a key moment in the restoration of democracy in the country.

At least 44 people were killed in the 1973 military crackdown on the student uprising at the Athens Polytechnic university, an event generally considered to have broken the junta’s grip on power.

The bloodstained Greek flag that flew over the Polytechnic that night, when a tank crashed into the university’s iron gate, is traditionally carried at the head of the demonstration in the capital.

Most of the marchers’ banners and slogans targeted fascism, imperialism, NATO and America’s foreign wars, but one was about the “dictatorship” of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The celebration “honours the 20-year-olds who stood up to combat vehicles but also a live, mass political event that expresses the democratic demands of each period”, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told parliament earlier in the day.

“The demand for more democracy… will last forever,” said Tsipras, the country’s first radical leftist leader, who was born the year the junta fell.

A similar protest was to be held in Thessaloniki later Thursday.

Police in Athens formed a security cordon of vans to deny protesters passage to central Syntagma Square, which has often become a battleground in previous demonstrations.

Nearly 40 people were detained for questioning ahead of the march, the police source told AFP.

Wednesday’s demonstration came after similar protests by unions and leftist groups on Tuesday, during a two-day official visit by US President Barack Obama.

There were scuffles as the protesters tried to approach the presidential mansion, where Obama was dining with Greek leaders, with police firing tear gas and stun grenades.

Special traffic regulations have been in force in the capital for a third straight day, including the closure of central streets and metro stations as well as changes to public transport routes.

Obama was the first US president to make an official visit to Greece since Bill Clinton in 1999. At the time, Clinton apologised for Washington’s stance during the seven-year junta period.

Many Greeks still resent the United States for having engineered in 1967 the rise of the fervently anti-Communist dictatorship, which jailed and tortured thousands of people suspected of leftist sympathies.

© 2016 AFP