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WW2 bomb forces huge evacuation in Greece - and museum trip for refugees

THESSALONIKI, Greece (Reuters) - A World War Two bomb forced a massive evacuation in Greece’s second-largest city on Sunday, but also gave a group of stranded refugees a rare day-trip to the museum.

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The bomb was deactivated by specialists by midday and was taken from the site, just to the west of central Thessaloniki, to a military shooting range to be destroyed.

Up to 72,000 residents living within a 2 km (1.2 miles) radius of the bomb site had been asked to leave their homes for local gyms, stadiums and cafes in one of the country’s biggest peacetime evacuations.

The 250 kg (550 lb) bomb was discovered about 5 meters (16 feet) below ground during excavation works at a petrol station last week.

“Phase two of the bomb removal operation was successfully completed. Citizens can safely return to their homes,” Regional Governor Apostolos Tzitzikostas wrote on Twitter.

For one group of refugees and migrants the discovery of the bomb led to an excursion to a museum.

The group, many of them Syrians fleeing the civil war there, live in a nearby former toilet paper factory. They were taken to the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, a listed monument whose permanent exhibitions include masterpieces of ancient Greek art dating from prehistoric times to late antiquity.

About 450 people live in the Softex refugee camp in an industrial zone on the outskirts of the city, in conditions described as “prison-like” by Amnesty International.

They are among about 60,000 refugees and migrants stranded in makeshift and formal camps across Greece since Balkan countries closed their borders last March to those seeking passage to western and northern Europe.

Greece’s migration ministry said Sunday’s trip was organized at the request of the refugees, and Greek state TV said they would also visit Thessaloniki’s White Tower, a waterfront monument and one of Greece’s most recognizable buildings.

Reporting by Alexandros Avramidis; Writing by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt and Hugh Lawson