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Students in Athens commemorate 1973 uprising against Greece’s US-backed junta

People march during a rally marking the anniversary of the 1973 student uprising against the military dictatorship that was ruling Greece, in Athens, November 17, 2021. (Photo by Reuters)

Thousands of demonstrators in Greece have rallied to mark the anniversary of a violently-quashed student uprising in 1973 against a US-backed junta which ruled the country back then.

On Thursday, about 5,500 Greeks took to the streets in the capital Athens, according to police, in a rally closely watched by security forces.

Earlier, police had announced that 5,700 of its personnel were stationed in the capital for the day, supported by drones, a helicopter and water cannon, as the demonstration often becomes a focal point for protest rallies against government policies.

The annual march moves toward the embassy of the United States, which many Greeks accuse of backing the 1967-1974 military dictatorship established in the country.

Demonstrators on Thursday were carrying banners that read, "US and NATO get out, disengagement from war." Young front-running protesters held a flag symbolically stained with blood in memory pf the students who participated in the 1973 revolt.

Large parts of the city center were closed off to traffic and central Athens subway stations shut early.

Before reaching the heavily-guarded parliament on Syntagma square, brief tension erupted between police and demonstrators.

The uprising started on November 14, 1973 and escalated to an open anti-junta revolt, which ended in bloodshed in the early morning of November 17, after a string of events starting with a tank crashing through the gates of the Athens Polytechnic.

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

At least 24 people were killed at the Athens Polytechnic, when troops and police violently cracked down on the pro-democracy uprising.

"It was a heroic act by people who moments earlier, hadn't realized 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 brutal clampdown, which shocked Europe, ultimately broke the junta's grip on power, leading to the restoration of democracy months later.

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