ATHENS – The presence of 5,000 police with helicopters and drones and the end of asylum on university grounds that had been used as hideouts where cops were banned kept the annual commemoration of the Nov. 17, 1973 student uprising that helped bring down a military dictatorship in Greece mostly peaceful.
There was anxiety that anarchists who are being routed by the law-and-order New Democracy government from the Exarchia neighborhood they dominated when the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA, said to be sympathetic to them, was in power would confront squadrons of riot police.
On the 46th anniversary of what is a pivotal moment in modern Greek history, helping topple a US-backed regime of brutal Colonels who had rivals beaten, killed, imprisoned and exiled, a march to the US Embassy was led by the now major opposition SYRIZA and former Premier Alexis Tsipras.
Months after signing a renewed military cooperation deal with the US and being lauded by American Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, Tsipras and his cohorts, ousted by New Democracy in July 7 snap elections, protested the Americans and NATO after backing both while in power.
That led to Tsipras – who left the protest parade before it reached the embassy in an apparent move not to be photographed there – being mocked by Fofi Gennimata, leader of the center-left Movement for Change (KINAL) he had tried to recruit, as she called him a hypocrite for suddenly taking to the streets again to protest the US and NATO.
More than 20,000 people made the traditional march from the National Technical University of Athens, site of the 1973 uprising, to the U.S. Embassy after police said about 10,000 people participated in a Communist Party rally and a further 1,000 marched with SYRIZA, both separate from the main march with over 10,000 participants.
A recent crackdown by the conservative government on extreme leftist activity in Exarchia, the Athens University of Economics and Business, had raised fears of possible heavy clashes but with the streets awash with police, who seized the high ground on rooftops that had been used in previous clashes by protesters to toss Molotov Cocktails, the anarchists backed off.
Police tactics appeared to have worked, and the first six arrests, shortly after the march, were of people who had sneaked firebombs, rocks, gas masks and other paraphernalia onto a rooftop close to Exarchia’s main square.
There were reports of police violence, including from a news site reporter who said he was attacked while filming riot police pursuing protesters. He appeared in a video with his face bruised.
Clashes with police also took place in other cities, including the second-largest, the northern port of Thessaloniki, after marches in which almost 10,000 took part, and where vehicles were set on fire as happened in parts of Athens.
Police said they detained 14 people in Thessaloniki and 17 in two other Greek cities. They said two police officers were injured, but did not specify where.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)