Thousands of police cordoned off streets across central Athens yesterday as a military parade to mark Independence Day was held under unprecedented security measures for fear of anti- austerity protests.
For the first time, the public was banned from a large part of the route. Police, including hundreds in riot gear, cordoned off streets leading to the parade route, allowing only access to those with special invitation. Low-hanging fruit from bitter orange trees that line the city’s pavements had been picked ahead of the march – apparently to prevent them from being thrown by protesters. The oranges have become a favourite projectile during demonstrations.
Usually, thousands of people line the main streets of central Athens to watch the 25 March military parade, which marks Greece’s uprising against the Ottoman Empire in 1821.
But public anger has grown as the government has imposed yet more spending cuts and tax rises during a severe financial crisis. On another national day last October, the country’s figurehead president was heckled and a similar parade called off because of protests.
As yesterday’s ceremonies got underway with President Karolos Papoulias laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and a military band playing the national anthem, a group of about a dozen people at the bottom of Syntagma Square across a main street from the legislative building chanted “traitors.”
They were quickly surrounded by riot police and gradually dispersed.