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Politics

Greece Marks Locked Down Nov. 17 Anti-Junta Anniversary, Communist Party Marches

November 17, 2020

ATHENS – Apart from a small group of Communists who marched to the US Embassy in defiance of a COVID-19 lockdown ban on public gatherings, the annual Nov. 17 commemoration of a 1973 student uprising that was the beginning of the end of a military junta was celebrated somberly.

Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou laid a wreath at the empty Athens Polytechnic University to honor the dozens killed there, the site on this date usually packed with people but now mostly empty with people having to stay at home.

The New Democracy government banned marches for a four-day period leading up and including the commemoration, but the KKE Communists defied it although the state-run Athens-Macedonia News Agency (ANA-MPA) said they were wearing masks and staying a safe social distance apart but still violating a prohibition on gathering.

during a bloody 1973 student uprising against the then military junta.

The decision to not allow a march was slammed by leftist and Communist opposition parties as “authoritarian,” although they said nothing about other national holidays, such as the March 25 independence day and Oct. 28 Oxi day defying an Italian demand to surrender in World War II.

More than 5,000 police were deployed in central Athens and public gatherings of more than four were banned until Nov. 18, according to police, and violators face fines of up to 5,000 euros ($5,928) said Reuters, with no reports the Communists were fined.

Acknowledging Greece's young who rebelled in 1973, Mitsotakis laid a wreath at the site of the Polytechnic while noting the pressure on the country over the pandemic and the economic effects of two lockdowns.

“Greek society’s priorities today are protecting public health and showing solidarity to our fellow-citizens, and especially to young people being tried by the economic crisis,” he told reporters at the site.

“The enduring bid for freedom is complemented by the sense of responsibility we must all demonstrate in order to come out of this unprecedented ordeal stronger and more 

Nov. 17is marked each year with wreath-laying ceremonies at the Athens Polytechnic commemorating those who died there, followed by marches to the U.S. Embassy. The marches sometimes turn violent, with protesters clashing with riot police.

Left wing parties who didn't object to not being allowed to march on the other national holidays where solidarity is shown but missed the chance to capitalize politically on Nov. 17 were outraged at being shut out.

While a union of judges said the ban was unconstitutional the country's highest administrative court, the Council of State, rejected a bid by the leftists to have the prohibition lifted.

“At this critical time, the historic anniversary cannot become the reason for division and human lives the field of party experiments,” Mitsotakis said the day before, calling for “self-restraint from all parties.” He added: “There can be no freedom without responsibility,” he said.

“I honestly believe that the overwhelming majority of society is having trouble following the big debate occurring about this year’s celebration in pandemic conditions,” Mitsotakis said. “The decision to not have mass events and a march is being imposed purely for reasons of protecting public health.”

The major opposition SYRIZA, rebranding itself from its former name as the Radical Left after being badly routed in July 7, 2019 snap elections, said Mitsotakis' statement was a “crescendo of hypocrisy” and accused him of suspending the Greek Constitution by banning gatherings nationwide.

SYRIZA and other left wing parties – despite polls showing their own supporters widely agreed with the march ban – signed a joint statement that said their groups had 

“proven in practice” their marches stick to health protocols, but didn't note that public gatherings of all kinds aren't allowed during the new lockdown.

“Democratic rights and popular freedoms are the conquest of the working and popular movement. The government has a huge responsibility for this development. Even now it must withdraw this unacceptable decision” on banning gatherings,” they said, but it wasn't.

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