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History, The Colonelsí Coup

Andreas Papandreou, countercoup, presidential republic, Communist bloc, plebiscite

Before the elections could take place, however, a group of middle-ranking army officers led by Colonel Georgios Papadopoulos launched a bloodless military coup on April 21, 1967. The junta, who came to be known collectively as the Colonels, claimed that they had acted to forestall a Communist-inspired coup, although no evidence for this was ever produced. The Colonelsí primary motivation was clearly to forestall the elections planned for May. These elections were widely expected to return Georgios Papandreouís Center Union to power. Andreas Papandreou was expected to wield considerable influence among the more radical elements in such a government. The Colonels had feared that a Center Union victory would be followed by a purge of ultra-right-wing army officers such as themselves. Following the coup, a civilian, Konstantinos Kollias, was appointed prime minister, but it was immediately apparent that real power lay with the military.

The regime rounded up hundreds of people with records of left-wing political activity along with politicians from across the political spectrum and sent them to prison camps on the islands. Before long, reports emerged of torture and other maltreatment of political prisoners. Whereas previous military juntas in Greece had soon made way for their allies in the political sphere, the Colonels made it clear that they intended to remain in power for as long as it took to recast Greece in their image. The Colonels suspended the constitution, abolished political parties, imposed censorship, and annulled a number of reforms that had been introduced by the Papandreou government. The Colonels did not enjoy total support within the army, however, and in December 1967 Constantine II launched a countercoup. After this failed, the king went into exile. Colonel Papadopoulos became prime minister, with General Georgios Zoitakis as regent for the absent king.

After investigating complaints, in 1969 the Commission of Human Rights of the Council of Europe determined that political prisoners in Greece had suffered torture and degrading treatment. Facing certain expulsion, Greece then withdrew from the council. The country remained a member of NATO, however. Despite its persecution of Communists within Greece, the junta established good relations with the countries of the Communist bloc, including China, and brought an end to a technical state of war with Albania that dated from World War II. Western governments criticized the regime at times but took no formal action against it. The United States continued to provide aid to Greece, which it considered crucial to stability in the eastern Mediterranean.

The junta introduced a new constitution in 1968 that institutionalized the militaryís grip on the government. This followed a plebiscite conducted while martial law was in force. In 1973, following an unsuccessful mutiny within the navy, Papadopoulos abolished the monarchy and declared Greece a presidential republic. In a referendum in which he was the sole candidate, Papadopoulos was elected to an eight-year term as president. He then declared a broad amnesty for political offenses and announced that elections would be held in 1974. They were to be overseen by Spyros Markezinis, one of the few politicians prepared to collaborate in any way with the junta.

Article key phrases:

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