Tens of thousands of angry Greek protesters filled the streets of Athens yesterday (9 October) to greet German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who offered sympathy but no promise of further aid.
Police fired teargas and stun grenades to hold back crowds chanting anti-austerity slogans and waving Nazi flags while Merkel's host, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, welcomed her as a "friend" of
On her first visit to
"I have come here today in full knowledge that the period
"Precisely for that reason I want to say that much of the path is already behind us," she added.
'Greek people are bleeding'
Samaras, who invited Merkel to
"The Greek people are bleeding but are determined to stay in the euro," he said. "They are not asking for more money or favours. They only want to get back on their feet as soon as possible and exit this recession."
On the other side of the parliament building, tens of thousands of demonstrators defied a ban and gathered to voice their displeasure with the German leader, whom many blame for forcing painful cuts on
Greek riot police clashed with protestors who tried to break through a metal barrier to reach the cordoned-off area where Merkel and Samaras were meeting. Some demonstrators pelted police with rocks, bottles and sticks.
At least 30 people were hurt or suffered breathing problems from tear gas and about 300 were detained, police said.
Four people dressed in World War Two-era German military uniforms and riding on a small jeep, waved black-white-and-red swastika flags and raised their hands in the Hitler salute. In 1940 Greece opposed Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, but was eventually invaded and conquered by Nazi Germany in April 1941 (see background).
Banners read "Merkel out,
"We know that she is not here to offer favours but she must help us, this is our last chance," said 45-year-old Mari Hanioti, a saleswoman supporting her two children and her unemployed husband.
"She must be able to see what we are going through, how much we are suffering. She should see the poor neighbourhoods not just the expensive hotels."
Some 6,000 police officers were deployed for the six-hour visit, including anti-terrorist units and rooftop snipers. German sites in the Greek capital, including the embassy and Goethe Institute, were under special protection.
Before departing, Merkel met Greek business people to ask how reforms were progressing and hear how they were affected by an economy that has shrunk by a fifth in five years, leaving 25% of workers out of a job.
Merkel decided to come to show support for Samaras, a fellow conservative, as he struggles to convince reluctant, leftist coalition partners to impose more austerity on a society fraying at the edges after several rounds of cuts.
With a year to go until
Ties between Germany and Greece run deep. Thousands of Greeks came to Germany after World War Two as "guest workers" to help rebuild the shattered country and more than 300,000 Greeks currently reside there.
But the relationship is clouded by atrocities Greeks suffered at the hands of the Nazis. Samaras's own great grandmother killed herself after Nazi tanks rolled down the streets of Athens and the swastika flew over the Acropolis.
Greek President Karolos Papoulias, whom Chancellor Angela Merkel also met on Tuesday, fought against the Germans as a teenager, before fleeing to escape persecution by the Greek military dictatorship and finding refuge in Germany.
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