Europe

Police close off Athens center for military parade

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Tanks rolled down the street and military aircraft flew overhead as Greece celebrated its Independence Day with a military parade in central Athens Tuesday, with 3,000 police deployed to ensure the public was kept well away from dignitaries watching from in front of Parliament.

Vehicles and pedestrians were prevented from accessing a swath of central Athens, including the capital's main Syntagma Square, where the metro station was also shut for hours before the morning parade. Riot police were on standby in side streets, and lines of police buses blocked roads.

March 25 marks the start of Greece's 1821 war of independence against the Ottoman Empire. The public was allowed to watch from near the end of the parade route. Only invited guests, including police and members of the security forces in civilian clothes, were allowed to watch from opposite Parliament.

In recent years, authorities have limited the public, after protesters at one parade heckled officials over the handling of Greece's financial crisis and austerity measures imposed in return for billions of euros in international rescue loans.

"The only thing that reminds us that there's a parade today is the flags (on sale) in kiosks and police trucks. And the helicopters that passed overhead, because it was the only thing we were able to see," said Anastasis Georgiadis, a would-be spectator trying to get closer to the parade route with his wife and child.

In the country's second largest city, Thessaloniki, a parade by schoolchildren was held under similarly tight security, with parents and the public limited to areas of the route far from local dignitaries. About 100 teachers and school guards protesting job cuts shouted anti-austerity slogans and unfurled a banner, but no further incident was reported.

Greece's financial crisis that began in late 2009 has seen the country's economy shrink by about a quarter. Austerity measures imposed in an effort to reform the economy have left unemployment spiraling to above 27 percent.

Tuesday's parade was the first time in about three years that fighter jets and military helicopters have carried out flyovers. Long a fixture of Independence Day celebrations, the participation of military hardware was suspended due to budget constraints.

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