THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — Thousands of anti-austerity protesters in Greece's second largest city forced the cancellation on Friday of an annual military parade commemorating the nation's entry into World War II.
The demonstrators heckled President Karolos Papoulias and other attending officials, calling him a traitor, and some anarchists spat at retired military officers.
In several other Greek cities, officials were heckled but most of the commemorative parades went ahead as scheduled, two days after Europe's leaders announced a strengthened financial rescue plan that includes bigger write-downs of Greek debt and new injections of capital into weakened European banks.
In Thessaloniki, the protesters blocked the parade route, forcing police to intervene and protect the officials' stand until it was evacuated. After waiting in the parade stand for about 30 minutes, Papoulias left, but not before launching a broadside against the protesters.
"When I was 15, I fought against Nazism and the German occupiers. Who are they calling me a traitor? Shame on them," Papoulias told reporters before leaving the parade stand. Papoulias, 82, joined the Greek resistance in 1944, during the last months of the three-year German occupation of Greece.
The protesters included leftists, anarchists, neo-Nazis, people fed up with the government's austerity policies, and fans of the local soccer club Iraklis, which was pushed out of the top division because of financial irregularities.
Asked if the protesters were justified, given the government's biting austerity measures and Greece's deep recession, Papoulias said the demonstrators represented "a small minority."
"The great mass of the people accept all these austerity measures that hit the weakest because they hope for a better day, when we will overcome the crisis and clean our house," Papoulias said.
The protesters mingled among tens of thousands of people who had come to watch the parade, making it difficult to push them back, police said.
In chaotic scenes after the officials left, some people tried to march as if the parade could be held, including retired military officers. Tensions rose when some anarchists spat at them, but most protesters applauded the officers.
A student parade through Athens commemorating the day ended without a major incident, but some protesters carried banners with slogans such as "No to the selling out of the country," and "Merkel equals Hitler," referring to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who played a big role in negotiating the new euro-nation rescue plan.
The demonstrators were condemned by the government and the conservative opposition, but justified by some leftist parties.
"This was a subversion of democratic institutions," said government spokesman Elias Mossialos.
"This is a calamitous response to (the government's) calamitous policies. ... Only our enemies would like to see us divided thus," said opposition leader Antonis Samaras.
On Thursday, heavily indebted Greece was provided with a second bailout package worth €130 billion ($184 billion) to stave off bankruptcy. A first package of €110 billion ($156 billion) by the euro zone countries, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank was agreed in May 2010 and has been partially disbursed.
Demetris Nellas and AP Photographer Thanassis Stavrakis contributed from Athens.
- Karolos Papoulias