ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece’s opposition reacted with outrage on Wednesday to the sacking of its military chiefs, calling it a bid to stack the armed forces with party loyalists before a possible government collapse over the country’s debt crisis.
The socialist government late on Tuesday replaced the heads of the army, navy and air force and the chief of joint chiefs of staff in what officials described as a long-planned move largely unrelated to political turmoil.
“We won’t accept this decision,” the main opposition conservative New Democracy party said.
Greek governments have exerted tight control over the country’s armed forces since the collapse of a seven-year military junta in 1974.
Army chiefs are often selected on the basis of party loyalty as part of a deeply-entrenched system of political patronage. The outgoing military leadership was appointed in August 2009 by the previous conservative administration, just before national elections were called.
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou faces criticism from within his party and European leaders after calling a referendum on an EU bailout package agreed last week to keep the country afloat. He faces a confidence vote in parliament on Friday.
“It is immoral to change the leadership of the armed forces, just a few hours before the fall of the government,” the far-right LAOS party said.
The move to replace the military chiefs may have also been hastened by a Greek protest at austerity measures that halted a major national parade last week.
The annual military parade in the northern city of Thessaloniki is one of the most symbolic events in Greece’s political calendar and it was the first time it had been canceled.
Reporting by Harry Papachristou; editing by Andrew Roche