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Greeks prepare security measures ahead of Obama visit

Associated Press Associated Press 14/11/2016 By ELENA BECATOROS, Associated Press
Police patrol outside Zappeio Conference Hall in Athens, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. Thousands of police are to be deployed in Athens for draconian security measures during a two-day visit to Athens by President Barack Obama starting Tuesday. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis) © The Associated Press Police patrol outside Zappeio Conference Hall in Athens, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. Thousands of police are to be deployed in Athens for draconian security measures during a two-day visit to Athens by President Barack Obama starting Tuesday. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

ATHENS, Greece — Greek authorities were preparing draconian security measures Monday ahead of a two-day visit by U.S. President Barack Obama, including the deployment of thousands of police, road closures and restrictions on protests.

Obama is due in Athens Tuesday morning for talks with the country's political leadership. He is scheduled to deliver a speech on Wednesday before heading to Berlin as part of his last major trip abroad.

Greek police announced a ban on public gatherings in central Athens, as well as near the city's international airport and a southern suburb where one of the city's luxury hotels is located, effective from several hours before Obama's arrival until his departure.

At least 5,000 police are to be deployed, including teams with sniffer dogs, while major avenues and roads in central Athens will be closed to vehicles and at times to pedestrians. Parking restrictions were to go into effect Monday night.

Anarchist and left-wing groups are planning protest marches. A communist party-linked union slammed the ban on demonstrations "against the representative of imperialist powers" and called for mass participation in a central Athens rally planned for Tuesday evening.

"Nobody can remain apathetic before the visit of the hawk of war," the PAME union said in a statement.

An armed anarchist group has called for "attacks and clashes" to disrupt Obama's visit.

In a website posting Friday, the Conspiracy Cells of Fire group urged anarchists to "return a little of the violence we receive daily."

The group has claimed responsibility for a string of bomb attacks on judges, police and other figures of authority, causing minor injuries but no fatalities.

Extensive violent demonstrations greeted the last official visit to Greece of a sitting U.S. president, by Bill Clinton in 1999.

Many leftists in Greece regard the U.S. with misgivings, stemming mostly from America's backing of the military dictatorship that governed the country from 1967 to 1974. Obama's visit comes just days before the Nov. 17 anniversary of the junta's 1973 bloody crackdown on a student uprising. The anniversary is marked by an annual protest march to the U.S. Embassy, which frequently turns violent.

Greece's left-led coalition government, struggling to pull the country out of six years of a vicious financial crisis that has devastated its economy, has hailed Obama's visit as being of "huge importance" for both Greece and Europe.

It has expressed the hope that U.S. pressure could persuade some of its more reluctant international creditors, such as Germany, to grant significant debt relief, without which it says Greece cannot hope to recover economically. Greece has been relying on emergency loans from three consecutive multi-billion euro (dollar) international bailouts since 2010.

In a briefing note last week on the visit, Greece's press ministry said that the United States, "and particularly of President Obama," had supported Greece on several issues including "on the issue of dealing with Greek debt, as a decisive step toward a period of development and prosperity."

Rights organizations have urged Obama to use his visit to highlight Europe's response to the refugee crisis. Reluctance by many richer European countries to take in refugees has left more than 60,000 people stranded in Greece, living in often poor conditions in overcrowded camps, particularly on eastern Aegean islands.

Obama should "shine the spotlight not only on abysmal conditions for the tens of thousands of refugees stranded in Greece, but also on the failure of world leaders to adequately address the wider global refugee crisis," John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's Europe director, said in a statement.

Human Rights Watch said Obama "should call on EU leaders to defend universal human rights and show greater responsibility for refugees."

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