Greece bans gatherings ahead of uprising anniversary

AFP , Sunday 15 Nov 2020

November 17 is a treasured anniversary for many Greeks, recalling a crackdown that killed 24 people, including many students of the Athens Polytechnic

Greek police sparked a furore on Sunday after announcing a ban on public gatherings ahead of the anniversary of a 1973 uprising, with the government reporting worsening coronavirus figures.

November 17 is a treasured anniversary for many Greeks, recalling a crackdown that killed 24 people, including many students of the Athens Polytechnic.

The bloodbath was generally considered to have broken the junta's grip on power and speeded the restoration of democracy.

Last year more than 30,000 people marked the anniversary in Athens and other major cities under a heavy police presence.

This year, however, all public gatherings of four or more people will be banned from 6 am on Sunday to 9 pm on Wednesday to stem the spread of coronavirus, police said in a statement.

Political parties face fines of 5,000 euros ($5,900), while individual organisers would be fined 3,000 euros and participants would have to pay 300 euros.

Citizens' Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis said Friday that events commemorating the student uprising would not take place this year.

"We did not celebrate any of the things that unite us in 2020," the minister said, citing Easter and two other national holidays that could not be observed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"The virus is the enemy and large gatherings are its main weapon," he added.

Authorities on Sunday reported 1,698 new cases, taking the total to 74,205, and a new daily death toll of 71, a new record, raising the overall toll to 1,105.

Greece passed the grim milestone of 1.000 dead on Saturday, when the government announced the closure of primary schools, kindergartens and daycare centres.

Opposition parties vowed to go ahead with various observances of the junta crackdown on Tuesday.

"All the measures will be strictly observed with the use of face masks and antiseptics, keeping the necessary distances," Communist KKE party leader Dimitris Koutsoumpas said Saturday.

"Of course we urge people belonging to vulnerable groups or those who are ill to stay at home," Koutsoumpas added in an interview.

- 'Autarchy' -

On Sunday the party said: "The organised people's movement will declare the government's autarchy null and void."

Diem25, the party of former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, plans to lay a wreath at the Polytechnic building on Tuesday, accusing the government of hypocrisy in allowing such gestures while banning marches that would observe all anti-Covid protocols.

For its part the left-wing main opposition Syriza party said: "No government... can suspend the constitution with the decision of a minister or the chief of the Greek police," referring to the constitutional right to assembly.

But it stopped short of planning a march, saying: "This year, with respect to the particular hygienic conditions, the commemoration of the November uprising can't be done and shouldn't be done like in the past."

The Greek Union of Judges and Prosecutors meanwhile noted that the constitution requires bans to cover specific geographical areas -- not the entire country.

"The state has the duty to protect public health during a pandemic without exceeding the limits of the rule of law," it said in a statement.

On Friday, Greek police evacuated the premises of the historic Polytechnic building that now houses the National Technical University of Athens, as well as another university campus.

They arrested 92 people for trespassing and causing a disturbance and public disorder.

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