ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s celebrations for the bicentenary of the start of the nation’s war of independence are culminating in a military parade and warplane flyby in Athens on Thursday, the country’s Independence Day.
But with Greece struggling to tackle a renewed surge of coronavirus infections and hospitalizations that have strained the health system to its limits, no spectators from the public were allowed to attend.
The parade features tanks rolling down the avenue in front of Parliament in the Greek capital and military aircraft flying past the ancient Acropolis. It also includes a mounted cavalry section and marching troops from the army, air force and navy as well as members of the police, fire department and coast guard.
Dignitaries from Russia, Britain and France, the great powers that provided vital assistance to the nation’s bid for independence from the Ottoman Empire, as well as the president of Cyprus, had arrived in Athens on Wednesday to participate in the celebrations.
Britain’s Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, French Defense Minister Florence Parly and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades attended the parade after laying wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside Parliament.
The Greek independence revolt started in the Mani region of the southern Peloponnese peninsula in 1821 and continued for years without official foreign support, with the Greeks gradually becoming riven by dissent and infighting. In 1827, with the revolution almost squashed, the war fleets of Britain, Russia and France intervened to destroy a Turkish-Egyptian fleet in the Bay of Navarino, in the western Peloponnese.
This crucial blow enabled the Greeks to fight on and eventually gain independence in 1830.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis kicked off Thursday’s celebrations attending the raising of the Greek flag on the Acropolis.
“Two centuries ago, a handful of determined fighters within and outside Greece, raised the banner of independence. They set in motion a process the end of which not even they themselves could have dreamed of. With the help of their allies, they fought heroically and won their freedom,” Mitsotakis said in a speech.
Throughout Greece’s history as an independent nation “we have lived through moments of triumph and of pain. Wise decisions, but also great mistakes,” he said. “But in all of humanity’s great tribulations our land was always on the right side of history.”
Mitsotakis noted that this year’s Independence Day was “unique, but also different, as it finds us in the final battle with the pandemic. With great difficulties, but with victory now visible. Besides, our national vaccination campaign is named Freedom.”
Despite being under lockdown-type measures since early November, Greece has seen spiraling coronavirus infections, with record numbers of patients intubated in intensive care units and dozens of daily deaths. Hospitals are strained to their limits, with many ICUs at capacity. As of Wednesday evening, the overall pandemic death toll had reached 7,649 and there were about 245,000 total confirmed infections in the country of around 11 million.
Warplanes and military helicopters will conduct a flyby over central Athens during the parade, including French Rafale fighter jets, several of which Greece is buying as part of a major arms procurement program.
Main avenues throughout central Athens were shut down, while thousands of police were deployed and seven planned protests and rallies were banned.