Thousands of police cordoned off streets across central Athens on Sunday 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, including the area in front of Parliament from where politicians and other officials watched the march.
Police, including hundreds in riot gear, cordoned off streets leading to the parade route, allowing access only to those with special invitation or accreditation. 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, which are inedible except if made into jam, have become a favorite projectile during demonstrations.
As the ceremonies got underway with President Karolos Papoulias laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of Parliament and a military band playing the national anthem, a group of about 50 people at the bottom of Syntagma Square across a main street from the legislative building chanted “Traitors.”
The small group was quickly surrounded by riot police and pushed further back across the major avenue of Ermou. They gradually dispersed and the parade ended without further incident.
“Look at what we’ve come to,” said Nikolas Blezas, one of the protesters, holding up a picture of one of Greece’s revolution heroes. “As if we were under who knows what kind of regime. I can’t take it.”
The country’s wounded war veterans boycotted this year’s parade for the first time, objecting to austerity measures that have seen salaries and pensions cut and taxes repeatedly raised.
Armored vehicles and military aircraft flyovers have not been carried out at the parades since 2010, when the government stopped the practice as part of cost-cutting measures.
The President of the Hellenic Republic stated after the parade that Greece is giving a fight and will not rest until it wins it. “We will not break. We will restore the dignity of the Greek people, who have often been ill treated by Europe. We will make it through.”
Coalition PM Lucas Papademos underlined the symbolic importance the March 25th Anniversary holds for the economic recovery of the country.