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Tension in Greece Ahead of Nov. 17 Protests

With most Greeks concentrating on making ends meet during a crushing economic crisis, and social unrest still growing against harsh austerity measures, the annual commemoration of the Nov. 17 student uprising against the country’s military dictatorship in 1973 has drawn less attention, but protesters a day ahead of the event showed their wrath.
Demonstrators at the National Technical University of Athens, known locally as the Polytechneio, hurled coffee and water at Deputy Education Minister Theodoros Papatheodorou, as he attempted to lay a wreath commemorating the anniversary.  During the day hundreds of Athenians were expected to pass the Polytechneio gates and pay their respects.
On Nov. 17, a protest march toward the United States Embassy in Athens is scheduled to take place at 3 p.m. In past years, there had been raucous protests against the American role in backing the military junta that ruled from 1967-73, but these days more Greeks are venting anger at Germany, which is backing big bailouts to keep the Greek economy afloat but has demanded pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions in return.
Security is still expected to be high during the commemoration of the anniversary and the march to the American Embassy in case it spills over into a more general protest like those seen recently in the downtown of Athens against the austerity measures.
The Athens Polytechnic uprising in 1973 was a massive demonstration of popular rejection of the right-wing junta. It began on Nov. 14, led by students and escalated to an open revolt that ended on Nov, 17 when a tank crashed through the gates of the university. Its rusted remains are still there and each year people pass by and leave flowers there.
Ironically, some of the student leaders then are now members of the government passing measures on workers, pensioners and the poor, including a $17.45 billion spending cut and tax hike plan that is expected to push many more people into poverty.
Maria Damanaki, who became the voice of student rebellion, is a member of the PASOK Socialist party that is backing the austerity measures that critics say are antithetical to the party’s principles and those of the student revolt. Some 24 people were killed and hundreds more injured and what happened during the assault on the Polytechnio is still not fully known.
Memories of the brutally repressive military dictatorship remain strong in Greece, especially as the government continues a crackdown on media freedom, is seeking to repeal laws granting citizenship to second-generation immigrants and is pressing prosecution in blasphemy cases.
With the government reeling from a series of demonstrations against auserity measures aimed squarely at workers, pensioners and the poor, and fearing outbreaks during the traditional march to the U.S. Embassy – which has warned Americans to be aware of racist attacks – security was being beefed up ahead of the day’s events.
A number of Metro stations will be closed in the heart of the city before the main demonstration, organized by student unions, begins outside the university where students began the rebellion that months later brought down the dictatorship and eventually led to the restoration of democracy.
Past protests have led to incidents of violence, particularly outside the American Embassy, which for some Greeks still remains the symbol of repression for supporting the junta of the Colonels. The Communist party will also lead a march to the Israeli Embassy to protest Israeli air strikes against Gaza, the base for rockets being fired into Israel.

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