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Greek protesters force parade halt

Thousands of anti-austerity protesters in Greece's second largest city have forced the cancellation of an annual military parade commemorating the nation's entry into the Second World War.

The demonstrators in Thessaloniki 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.

The protests came 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, Mr 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," he said.

Mr Papoulias, 82, joined the Greek resistance in 1944, during the last months of the three-year German occupation.

The protesters included leftists, anarchists, neo-Nazis, people fed up with the government's austerity policies, and fans of the local football club Iraklis, which has been 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, Mr 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," he said.

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.

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