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One dead during Orthodox Easter celebrations in Greece

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AFP |

Greece’s celebration of the Orthodox Easter on Sunday, hailed by the government as a moment of hope for the post-bailout resurrection of the country, was marred by the death of a cameraman hit by a flare during a show.

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According to the police, the 54-year-old man was filming in a parking area in the Peloponnesian town of Kalamata when he was hit in the head. He pronounced dead in hospital, authorities told AFP.  Easter is the biggest religious festival in Greece, where some 90 percent of the population is Orthodox and is celebrated with some spectacular but also dangerous customs.

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Millions of worshippers crammed into churches late Saturday as priests declared that “Christ is risen”, sharing candlelight from the “holy fire” in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The flame arrived in Athens on board a government aircraft and was welcomed by an honour guard and band.

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Hope Fuelled Havoc

Greeks after mass set off firecrackers, a custom that dates from the 19th century and which is now illegal without an official permit owing to frequent accidents. The ban is flouted with homemade explosives, which are often more powerful, and in the central Athens district of Neos Kosmos, locals even threw petrol bombs to mark Christ’s resurrection.

On the Ionian island of Corfu, residents observed a noisy ritual at noon on Saturday, throwing huge clay pots filled with red ribbons from balconies that were also decked in red. The ruckus symbolises “the triumph of life over death” and “the hope and joy of enslaved Christians for the resurrection of their nation,” folklore studies professor Dimitrios Loukatos told Athens News Agency.

Elsewhere, others celebrated Easter with a more subdued but still spectacular custom. In the Peloponnese seaside town of Leonidio, hundreds of colourful paper lanterns rose into the night sky Saturday, floating like hot-air balloons with the heat from burning bits of petrol-soaked cloth.

On Sunday, effigies of Judas, the disciple said to have betrayed Jesus Christ, are burned across the country.

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The ‘End of Greece’s Calvary

This Easter bears a special significance for the country according to the government. “We can finally be optimistic after all those difficult years. The Calvary of bailout programs is behind us,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said in his Easter message.

Calvary is the hill outside Jerusalem on which Christians believe Jesus Christ was crucified. In August, Greece exited its third and final international bailout, a milestone as it tackles a crushing nine-year debt crisis.

The economy is back on track and Athens is now set to borrow on financial markets without the strict conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and eurozone creditors. The increase in consumer confidence reported by officials last month led Greeks to travel more.

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City centres were deserted as residents flocked to home villages and islands, with many expected to enjoy an extended Easter owing to this year’s proximity to the May 1 Labour Day holiday. Planes, ships and trains were filled from Good Friday as the exodus reached a peak.

The Greek federation of travel agents said bookings were 15 percent higher than last year, owing also to an increase in consumer confidence.

© Agence France-Presse

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