Merkel encourages Greece amid protests
ATHENS - Agence France-Presse
Protesters push a police barricade outside the Parliament building during a violent protest against the visit of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel in Athens. AA photoGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel told Greece yesterday that the “tough path” of painful spending cuts would pay off, as tens of thousands of protesters massed in the capital in a show of anger against her visit to the eurozone’s most indebted nation.
Police fired tear gas to disperse protesters attempting to storm a barricade just blocks away from where Merkel was meeting Greek Prime Minister Antonio Samaras, while small gangs of masked youths threw bottles at riot police.
While the German leader hailed the progress of reforms undertaken by Athens, 25,000 protesters brandishing banners reading “You are not welcome, Imperialisten Raus” (Imperialists out)” and “No to the Fourth Reich” vented their anger against the budgetary discipline preached by the German leader.
Two Nazi flags were draped on a steel barricade near the Greek Parliament and set on fire.
Vilified for the punishing spending cuts imposed in recession-hit Greece, Merkel, the leader of Europe’s paymaster, is on her first visit to the country since the eurozone debt crisis erupted almost three years ago.
Merkel has become a hate figure in Greece because of the tough spending cuts imposed on the country in return for promised loans and debt relief worth about 347 billion Euros ($448 billion). She has even been depicted as Adolf Hitler in Greek tabloid caricatures.
On her first visit to Greece in five years, Merkel said: “I am deeply convinced that this tough path is worth it and Germany wants to be a good partner … A lot has been achieved. There is still a lot to do and Germany and Greece will work very closely together.”
For his part, Samaras said Greece was determined to emerge from the crisis. “Greece is determined to keep its promises and overcome the crisis ... the Greek people are bleeding right now, but they are determined to win the battle of competitiveness,” he said.
Merkel’s visit comes at a crucial time for Athens, which is currently locked in negotiations with its international creditors over a 13.5 billion euro package of further cuts in order to win further bailout funds.