ATHENS 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 then ruled the country.
The annual protest often becomes a focal point for groups protesting against government policies. Students, teachers, workers and pensioners laid wreaths and carnations at the city's Polytechnic school to honour the dozens killed in the Nov 17, 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 Polytechnic school to pay tribute to the dead students holding his daughter in his arms.
About 7,000 police were deployed to patrol the streets in central Athens and roads blocked off as the march started.
Adding to tensions this year, the far-right Golden Dawn party denied earlier this week that any students were killed at the Polytechnic School 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.
The afternoon march will pass shuttered stores in central Athens to the embassy of the United States, which protesters accuse of supporting the six-year military dictatorship.
Greece's Communist KKE party also called on demonstrators to march to the Israeli Embassy to protest against air strikes on Gaza.
Greece has witnessed numerous mass rallies against unpopular austerity measures, with some disintegrating into bloody clashes between riot police and demonstrators.
"Most of us feel that this is like the junta," said Apostolis Sabaziotis, a 32-year old psychologist, before the march.
Earlier this month, the conservative-led coalition voted by a razor-thin margin a new wave of pension and wage cuts and tax hikes demanded by its international lenders, despite violent protests at the gates of parliament.
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.
(Reporting by Renee Maltezou and Gina Kalovyrna, Editing by Stephen Powell)