Tight security in Athens before annual November 17 march
Drones, helicopters and 5,000 police deployed for annual rally marking 1973 uprising that often descends into violence.
Drones, helicopters and some 5,000 police are expected to be deployed in central Athens as part of a tight security operation over an annual protest marking the anniversary of a 1973 uprising against Greece’s then-military government that regularly descends into violence.
The November 17 demonstration commemorates the uprising at the Athens Polytechnic which set into motion a chain of events that toppled the US-backed military government – known in Greece as “the Junta” – in 1974.
The demonstrators have traditionally used the anniversary to voice opposition to US “imperialism”, marching outside Washington’s embassy to mark the crushing of the uprising which saw a tank bursting through the gates of the Polytechnic, killing at least 24 people and leaving deep-rooted suspicion towards authority among Greeks.
More recently, participants have also used the rally to denounce the harsh austerity measures imposed on Greece by international creditors over the past decade.
This year’s protest on Sunday is expected to be dominated by opposition to the conservative government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis, elected in July on a promise to strengthen law and order, among others.
Mitsotakis’s administration has already come under fire over 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.
The strict security measures will once again be focused on Exarchia, a central Athens district from where anti-establishment rioters traditionally mount evening raids on police after the conclusion of the main anniversary march.
Greek media this week quoted police as saying that they also have plans for dealing with attackers that climb up onto the roofs of buildings in the area in order to hurl various objects at police. Authorities will also use the helicopters and drones to relay visual images to an operations centre.
“We will be there with 5,000 officers,” police unionist Stavros Balaskas told Ellada radio.
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 the five years previously.
“Laws and regulations are needed for Greek citizens to feel safe,” Justice Minister Kostas Tsiaras told Parliament recently.
Athens Mayor Kostas Bakoyannis, a nephew of Mitsotakis, 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.
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.