Thousands march as Greece commemorates anti-junta revolt

Thousands of people demonstrated in Athens on Thursday in a yearly protest marking the anniversary of a deadly crackdown on a 1973 student revolt against a US-backed junta.

Some 5,500 people were marching in the capital, police said, in a demonstration closely watched by security forces, as violence often breaks out on the sidelines.

Police had earlier said 5,700 officers were deployed in Athens for the day, backed by drones, a helicopter and water cannon.

Much of the city centre was closed off to traffic and central Athens subway stations closed early.

The annual protests mark the day in 1973 when at least 24 people were killed at the Athens Polytechnic, when the junta sent troops and police against a pro-democracy student uprising.

"Two (young boys) died in my hands," Melpo Lekatsa, who was helping dress wounds at the Polytechnic on the night of November 17, 1973 as a 21-year-old student, told state TV ERT on Thursday.

The brutal crackdown shocked Europe, and is generally considered to have broken the dictatorship's grip on power, leading to the restoration of democracy months later.

"It was a heroic act by people who moments earlier, hadn't realised that they would be unafraid of bullets and who would place their bodies in front of tanks," said 70-year-old Lekatsa, who was arrested and tortured by the junta.

The Polytechnic "made people realise the junta was more brutal than they had imagined," she said.

Some 20,000 people took part in last year's demonstration in Athens, with a further 14,000 in the second city Thessaloniki.

Most of the unrest occurs in the bohemian Athens district of Exarcheia that is a popular anarchist hideout.

This year, scores of police have been deployed in Exarcheia since August to guard regeneration projects including a controversial new metro station.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis -- whose government is embroiled in a wiretap scandal -- on Thursday said the uprising "established the most complete democracy our country has ever known."

The bloodstained Greek flag that flew that night over the Polytechnic's iron gate, which was crushed by a tank, is carried at the head of the demonstration each year.

The demonstrations normally culminate at the US embassy to protest against Washington's support for the Greek military dictatorship during the Cold War.

"Past demonstrations have turned violent and have involved destruction of property," the US embassy in Greece said in a statement.

"The embassy has advised its personnel to avoid the areas of the demonstrations and will close early," it said.

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