Greeks on March 25 were kept from the main viewing area of their Independence Day parade, which was cordoned off for politicians, VIPS and invited guests as authorities feared protests against ongoing austerity measures.
Tanks rolled down the street and military aircraft flew overhead for the first time in the parade in the past few years as Prime Minister Antonis Samaras wanted to show the country was beginning to recover from a crushing economic crisis and a seven-year-long recession that has seen record unemployment and deep poverty.
More than 3,000 police were deployed to keep the public away from the viewing stand in front of the Parliament and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Syntagma Square, the main center for nearly four years of protests, strikes and riots.
Vehicles and pedestrians were prevented from accessing the area and were kept to the fringes of the parade route, and the main metro station was also shut for hours before the morning parade. Riot police were on standby in side streets, and lines of police buses blocked roads.
March 25 marks the start of Greece’s 1821 war of independence against the Ottoman Empire.
“The only thing that reminds us that there’s a parade today is the flags (on sale) in kiosks and police trucks. And the helicopters that passed overhead, because it was the only thing we were able to see,” Anastasis Georgiadis, a would-be spectator trying to get closer to the parade route with his wife and child, told the Associated Press.
In the country’s second largest city, Thessaloniki, a parade by schoolchildren was held under similarly tight security, with parents and the public limited to areas of the route far from local dignitaries. About 100 teachers and school guards protesting job cuts shouted anti-austerity slogans and unfurled a banner, but no further incident was reported.
“Today our peoples are giving a battle to break free from the loans owed to creditors. History guarantees that this struggle will end in victory as well,” President Karolos Papoulias said after attending the customary military parade in front of the Parliament building.
“Now that Greece is leaving the worst behind, let’s all work together for the better years to come,” Defense Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos added.
The Defense Ministry did not release estimates for the cost, but stressed that it was kept low. Last year’ s parade cost approximately 1.5 million euros (2.08 million U.S. dollars).