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A military officer (C) of the Hellenic Army's Explosives Ordnance Disposal (EOD) is seen inside a hole in the ground where a 250 kg World War Two bomb was found during excavation works at a gas station, before an operation to defuse it, in the northern city of Thessaloniki, Greece, February 12, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis


THESSALONIKI, Greece (Reuters) - A World War Two bomb forced a massive evacuation in Greece's second-largest city on Sunday but also gave a group of stranded refugees a rare day-trip to the museum.

The bomb was deactivated by specialists by midday but was still considered dangerous as authorities prepared to move it from the site just to the west of central Thessaloniki.

Up to 72,000 residents living within a 2 km (1.2 miles) 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 250 kg (550 lb) bomb was discovered about 5 meters (16 feet) below ground during excavation works at a petrol station last week.

"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."

For one group of refugees and migrants this meant a museum trip.

The group, many of them Syrians fleeing the civil war there, live in a nearby former toilet paper factory. They were taken to the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, a listed monument whose permanent exhibitions include masterpieces of ancient Greek art dating from prehistoric times to late antiquity.

About 450 people live in the Softex refugee camp in an industrial zone in the outskirts of the city, in conditions described as "prison-like" by Amnesty International.

They are among about 60,000 refugees and migrants stranded in makeshift and formal camps across Greece since Balkan countries closed their borders last March to those seeking passage to western and northern Europe.

Greece's migration ministry said Sunday's trip was organised at the request of the refugees and Greek state TV said they would also visit Thessaloniki's White Tower, a waterfront monument and one of Greece's most recognisable buildings.

(Reporting by Alexandros Avramidis; Writing by Karolina Tagaris Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

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