ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Thousands of people lined the streets in central Athens as fighter jets flew overhead and tanks rolled down the street outside Parliament during Greece’s independence day parade Friday, the first to be open to spectators in two years as coronavirus restrictions ease.
Due to the pandemic, only officials were allowed to attend last year's military parade marking the March 25, 1821 start of Greece’s revolt against the Ottoman Empire. The 2020 parade was canceled as part of lockdown measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis referred to the war in Ukraine during his independence day address Friday.
“This year, we welcome our national anniversary with the only certainty being the uncertainty of war. A fire that has been lit again in Europe, painting the borders in blood and turning millions into refugees,” Mitsotakis said.
“The universal ideas of the (1821) uprising transcend borders and centuries. Thus, the passion for freedom then, become solidarity for the defenders of Ukraine today,” he said.
Mitsotakis’ office said the prime minister spoke by phone Friday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy , who congratulated him on Greece’s independence day. The prime minister’s office said Mitsotakis invited Zelenskyy to address the Greek parliament via video link, and a date will be arranged in the coming days.
France also participated in Greece’s military parade, contributing Rafale fighter jets and a navy guard of honor. Greece signed deals on Thursday worth around 4 billion euros ($4.4 billion) to purchase three frigates and six additional Rafales from France.
Greece has been boosting its armed forces with an extensive military procurement program in response to tensions with NATO ally Turkey, a longtime rival.
The six new French fighter jets, to be built by Dassault Aviation, were added to an earlier order of 18 Rafales that included planes previously in service with the French air force.
The three FDI-class French frigates will be built by defense contractor Naval Group in western France and delivered by 2026, according to an agreement that also includes an option for Greece to purchase a fourth frigate at a later date.
France backed Athens’ position during a tense 2020 naval standoff between Greece and Turkey over oil and gas exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. In Paris last year, the leaders of Greece and France signed a security assistance pact that envisioned closer cooperation between the armed forces of the two countries.