AFP, 18 November 2010
ATHENS: Thousands of people marched in Athens on Wednesday to commemorate a 1973 student revolt against a US-backed junta, but brandishing banners protesting the financial crisis gripping Greece.
Around 20,000 demonstrators took part in the annual march, police said, with a large turnout from student groups, workers and leftist party supporters.
“We paid for their profits, we will not pay for their crisis,” read one of many protest banners targeting capitalism. “Oppose austerity and submission,” said another.
People of all ages, from pensioners to toddlers accompanied by their parents, participated in the annual three-kilometre demonstration.
The protesters also shouted anti-American slogans as they marched on the US embassy, the traditional focal point of the annual protest.
At least 44 people were killed in the 1973 military crackdown on an uprising at the Athens Polytechnic university, an event considered to have broken the US-backed junta’s grip on power and helped restore democracy.
Most of the banners and slogans in this year’s march were about the financial crisis that has seized Greece and nearly bankrupted the nation earlier this year.
The government adopted painful spending and pay cuts to rescue the economy, and was forced to appeal to the European Union and the International Monetary Fund for a bailout loan that is widely unpopular. “Our future does not lie in capitalism,” chanted a Communist bloc.
The demonstration started under torrential rain before conditions improved. A similar march was due later Wednesday on the US consulate in the northern city of Thessaloniki.
Authorities were on alert this year because of simmering social tensions over the tough cutbacks and tax hikes imposed by the Socialist government. “They declared war on you, so fight back,” the protesters chanted.
Around 7,000 police were deployed around the capital and security was visibly reinforced around potential targets such as government buildings and foreign embassies.
Six general strikes and waves of protests, some of them violent, have been held against the austerity drive. The country’s main unions are planning to mobilise again later this month and in December.
Greece has been under close supervision from the EU, the European Central Bank and the IMF after they extended a 110-billion-euro (149-billion-dollar) bailout loan to the debt-plagued country in April, Under the terms of the loan, Athens has been obliged to restructure its economy and impose cuts on wages, pensions and state spending that have plunged the country into a deepening recession and brought thousands of layoffs. “All of us are unemployed,” one bloc of radical leftists shouted outside parliament.
The anti-junta demonstration is a treasured anniversary to many Greeks. The bloodstained Greek flag that flew over the Polytechnic the night of the crackdown is traditionally carried at the head of the demonstration.