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Greece celebrates independence day amid rising tensions with Turkey

The Greek army hoists the national flag on Wednesday at Kastanies, a crossing point on the Greece-Turkey border, as asylum seekers continue to wait on the Turkish side. Photo by Dimitris Alexondis/EPA-EFE/UPI
The Greek army hoists the national flag on Wednesday at Kastanies, a crossing point on the Greece-Turkey border, as asylum seekers continue to wait on the Turkish side. Photo by Dimitris Alexondis/EPA-EFE/UPI

March 25 (UPI) -- Greece celebrated its independence day Wednesday as Turkish fighter planes violated Greek airspace and hundreds of Syrian refugees spent a 27th day waiting to enter at the border.

While the occasion was marked with parades and flag-hoistings, including a prominent military ceremony at the town of Kastanies on the Greece-Turkey border, Greek and Turkish officials exchanged accusations of escalating tensions that have been rising for weeks.

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Turkish F-16 planes violated Greek airspace at least 10 times on Wednesday, defense officials in Athens said, flying over the eastern Aegean Islands and Greece's mainland.

Syrian refugees, who fled fighting in their homeland and crossed Turkey to reach the Greek border, have been stopped from entering by security forces firing tear gas, water cannons and stun grenades. Although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan approved the asylum seekers' transfer to Greece on March 1, none have been permitted to enter.

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Greece is a EU member and Turkey is not, but Ankara has been providing humanitarian aid to the bloc. The governor's office of Edirne province listed 977,000 items on Wednesday, distributed to asylum seekers on the border, including diapers, hygiene materials, blankets, clothing and food.

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Ali Cengiz Kalkan, the provincial health director, accused Greek forces of brutality to keep refugees from entering Greece, saying more than 230 people were recently hospitalized after an attack by Greek forces.

"Immigrants cannot find their children after the Greek security forces attack them with gas," Kalkan said. "Health staff who find those children intervene and provide them with oxygen. It is a very touching scene when these children get to reunite with their parents."

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At least three people have been killed by Greek security operations, the Edirne Health Directorate reported.

Hundreds of migrants, mostly from Syria, were repelled at the border Wednesday. The number of those awaiting transfer has varied, but Turkey currently houses about 3.7 million refugees. Erdogan initially prevented Syrian refugees from crossing Turkey to reach Greece, but ceased those efforts following disputes with the EU.

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