Thousands gather for anti-racism march

Shopkeepers boarded up their stores in Thessaloniki yesterday as protesters gathered for the first of many marches held to coincide with the European Union summit.

Thousands assembled at a government-erected tent city to put finishing touches on banners for an anti-racism march intended to kick off the rallies.

Anti-globalisation activists, ecologists, student groups and communists are expected to join a larger anti-EU protest tomorrow that could challenge security around the summit site in Porto Carras, south-east of Thessaloniki.

The Greek Civil Servants Federation has called for a strike to allow its members to attend. Delegates from a gathering of world communist parties in Athens are expected to join the protests and could revive the strong anti-war sentiments that swept Greece during the Iraq conflict.

Aleka Papariga, the head of the Greek Communist Party, criticised European leaders for not doing more to oppose the war and called the US-led invasion "a stain on the Greek presidency'' of the EU.

More than 15,000 police and other security personnel are being deployed in Porto Carras, where European leaders began arriving yesterday for the two-day summit.