ATHENS (Reuters) - Thousands of Greeks protesting against austerity policies rallied in Athens on Saturday to mark a bloody student uprising almost four decades ago against the military junta that ruled the country at the time.
The annual protest often becomes a focal point for groups protesting against government policies and comes against a backdrop of rising public anger at a new round of wage and pension cuts approved by parliament this month.
About 20,000 protesters waving red flags marched peacefully through the center of Athens to the embassy of the United States, which protesters accuse of having supported the six-year military dictatorship.
They held banners reading “We can topple this new junta” and “Our revolt will become your nightmare”, reflecting widespread fury at the government’s austerity drive.
“Most of us feel that this is like the junta,” said protesters Apostolis Sabaziotis, a 32-year-old psychologist who has been working for four months without being paid.
Demonstrators then moved to the Israeli embassy to protest against air strikes in Gaza.
It was the latest in a succession of mass rallies against austerity measures in Greece, which often disintegrate into bloody clashes between riot police and demonstrators. About 7,000 police were deployed in the streets of central Athens.
Earlier on Saturday, students, teachers, workers and pensioners laid wreaths and carnations at the Athens Polytechnic University to honour the dozens killed in the 1973 revolt.
“We must send (the government) a message. The situation can change only if we resist,” said 37-year-old Panagiotis Sarantidis, who went to the university to pay tribute to the dead students, holding his daughter in his arms.
Adding to tension this year, the far-right Golden Dawn party denied earlier this week that any students were killed there in 1973.
Riding a wave of public anger at corrupt politicians, austerity and illegal immigration, the ultra-nationalist party entered parliament this year - the first time an extreme-right group has done so since the fall of the 1967-1974 junta.
Since 2009, the country’s debt crisis - which Prime Minister Antonis Samaras dubbed Greece’s “Great Depression” - has plunged the economy into a deep recession and sent unemployment to a record high, putting one in four Greeks out of work.�
Many Greeks accuse the two main ruling coalition parties, the conservative New Democracy and the Socialist PASOK that have dominated politics since the fall of the junta, of driving the country to near-bankruptcy.
“They lock themselves in parliament and don’t listen to the people,” said 29-year-old unemployed protester Spyros Nikolaou. “Their policies are simply wrong. They can’t save us.”
Additional reporting by Gina Kalovyrna; Editing by Deepa Babington and Alison Williams