Greek protesters disrupt national day parades

ATHENS, March 25 Sun Mar 25, 2012 9:56am EDT

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ATHENS, March 25 (Reuters) - Greek police fired tear gas on Sunday to disperse anti-austerity protesters at national day parades to mark Greece's independence from Ottoman rule in three cities.

The annual military parade to commemorate Greece's uprising in 1821 was held under unprecedented security measures in Athens, preventing a repeat of minor clashes and heckling at previous celebrations, when protesters called President Karolos Papoulias a traitor.

The protests reflect public anger at the stifling austerity measures imposed by the government to secure the funding it needs from its international lenders stay afloat.

The measures, which include steep cuts to pay and pensions, have helped push Greece's economy into its worst recession in four decades, driving unemployment to a record 21 percent.

In Athens, streets were cordoned off and about 4,000 police officers were deployed to the city centre, including snipers on the roof of parliament and other buildings on the main Syntagma square, the scene of violent anti-austerity protests last year.

The parade in the capital was concluded peacefully but tight security meant very few people besides officials and dignitaries were able to get close enough to watch it.

"Today Greek people are fighting a tough battle. After achieving the impossible back then, we will also succeed this time," President Karolos Papoulias told reporters after the parade in Athens.

Greece, which faces elections in late April or early May amid a deep economic malaise, needs to stick to difficult economic reforms prescribed by its lenders - the European Union and the International Monetary Fund - to continue receiving aid under a second bailout deal.

In the western port city of Patras a group of about 50 protesters pelted police with bottles and stones after they were blocked from getting close the stand of dignitaries watching a student parade.

Police also fired tear gas at about 200 protesters who tried to disrupt student parades in the cities of Heraklion and Chania on the island of Crete. Police said 39 people were detained across the country.

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