ATHENS — Greece's prime minister appealed to political parties Monday to show "self-restraint" in commemorations marking the 1973 crushing of a student uprising by the ruling military junta at the time, as part of measures to curtail a surging coronavirus outbreak in the country.
Nov. 17, the day the uprising was quashed, is 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.
This year, the government has banned the marches due to a surge in coronavirus infections and deaths which are straining the country's health system. The police chief over the weekend announced a nationwide ban on gatherings of more than three people from Nov. 15-18.
Left-wing opposition parties voiced outrage and said the ban was unconstitutional.
"At this critical time, the historic anniversary cannot become the reason for division and human lives the field of party experiments," Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a statement Monday. "For that reason I call for self-restraint from all parties."
Mitsotakis noted that gatherings during Greece's two national holidays on March 25 and Oct. 28 were also canceled this year.
"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."
On Sunday, Greece recorded its largest coronavirus death toll in a single day: 71. The country of 11 million people now has over 74,000 confirmed cases and more than 1,100 deaths, while its intensive care units are at 78% capacity. The country is under lockdown until Nov. 30.
The main opposition Syriza party described Mitsotakis' statement as "a crescendo of hypocrisy" and accused him of suspending the Greek Constitution by banning gatherings nationwide.
A statement Syriza signed jointly with other left-wing parties noted that the parties have "proven in practice" that any mobilizations they organize adhere to all necessary protective measures.
"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.