THESSALONIKI (Greece) • Greek soldiers yesterday defused a World War II bomb in the second-largest city Thessaloniki after evacuating tens of thousands of people from the area.
The bomb was deactivated by specialists by midday but was still considered dangerous as the authorities prepared to move it from the site just to the west of central Thessaloniki.
Up to 72,000 residents living within a 2km radius of the bomb site were asked to leave their homes for local gyms, stadiums and cafes in one of the country's biggest peacetime evacuations.
The 250kg bomb was discovered about 5m below ground during excavation works at a petrol station.
"Now begins the second phase of the operation to remove the bomb from the area," Regional Governor Apostolos Tzitzikostas said after the deactivation.
"The danger remains. Citizens must stay outside the evacuation zone until the bomb removal process is completed."
The massive evacuation is unprecedented in Greece, "where a bomb of this size has never been found in an area this densely populated", Mr Tzitzikostas told reporters before the defusal.
According to Greek media reports, the bomb was dropped by a British plane during air strikes on the city's nearby railway station and port in 1943. The army, however, has not confirmed or denied the report.
Seven decades after the end of World War II, unexploded bombs from the conflict are still being found around the globe.
On Jan 23, dozens of people were evacuated after a bomb was found near a Hong Kong university, while three days before that, Britain's navy disposed of a suspected wartime bomb found close to Parliament in London.
In the German city of Augsburg, 54,000 people had an unwelcome Christmas surprise on Dec 25 when they had to leave their homes while the authorities dealt with a bomb dropped by Britain during the war.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS