The German chancellor bolstered Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, but economic news remains grim.
By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 10/10/12
A pensioner pushes riot policemen during a protest near the EU offices in Athens on Monday (October 8th). More than 7,000 police were called on to curb protests during German Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit. [Reuters]
As 50,000 demonstrators defied a ban on protests during her five-hour visit to Athens on Tuesday (October 9th), Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel told Prime Minister Antonis Samaras that Greece has covered "much of the ground" toward recovery from its crushing economic crisis, but stopped short of giving him unconditional support.
Returning the favor for his visit to Berlin in August, Merkel propped up the embattled Samaras, who is still trying to finalise a 13.5-billion euro package of spending cuts and tax hikes.
Merkel is keen on keeping Greece in the eurozone, but did not mention whether she would be willing to be more lenient and give Samaras the two extra years he said he needs to implement reforms and meet fiscal targets to reduce the deficit from 9.3 percent to 3 percent and decrease the country's 300-billion euro debt.
Marios Evriveavis, a professor of international relations at Panteion University in Athens, told SETimes that Merkel's visit "was more symbolic than substantive because she really had nothing new to say other than to keep on with the program and she didn't come out and say that Greece will stay in the euro."
But, he added: "Merkel apparently had some new thoughts about Greece, about stopping these punishment games."
"I have come here today in full knowledge that the period Greece is living through right now is extremely difficult … and many people are suffering," Merkel said during a joint news conference with Samaras.
Although Germany is the biggest contributor to Greece's bailouts, Merkel is unpopular with many Greeks for her insistence on continued austerity before a 30.1-billion euro loan installment, the last in an initial series of 109 billion euros in rescue monies, is released.
More than 7,000 police and snipers were called out to make sure protests didn't reach anywhere near where she and Samaras were meeting.
While the protests, called by the two largest public and private labor unions, were generally peaceful, anarchists who infiltrate demonstrations engaged in skirmishes with riot police in Syntagma Square, with police firing stun grenades and tear gas and rioters responding with Molotov cocktails, pieces of marble, water bottles and lemons.
Antonis Klapsis, head of research for the Konstandinos Karamanlis Institute for Democracy, the think tank for Samaras' New Democracy Conservative party, told SETimes that the attempt to lock down Athens was the right move, although protesters succeeded in evading it.
"The visit was quite successful and showed that Greece has made a lot of progress and that Merkel and most of the European leaders support Samaras and his government," he said.
Maria Lazarou, 43, a worker at Athens City Hall, said her pay has been cut 40 percent.
"I feel angry. They have destroyed my life and my children's," she told SETimes. "I blame Merkel's policies and our politicians," she said.
Not far from where police were tangling with anarchists, Alex Gikas, 18, a journalism student at the University of Athens, said he was frustrated. "The government does everything that Merkel says," he told SETimes.
Takis Pappas, an associate professor of comparative politics at the University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki, said Samaras and Merkel are siding against left-and-right-wing opponents and Greek society at the same time.
"There are many more smaller, but not less important battles going on," he told SETimes.