Greek police are preparing to close down large sections of the Athens to contain protests against German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is visiting the city on Tuesday for talks with the country’s Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras.
All but two organized protests and gatherings have been banned, and at least 7,000 plainclothes police and hundreds more undercover agents have been mobilized from across the country to lock down the capital and erect steel fences around the capitals parliament building.
Locals say snipers were already visibly stationed on the roof tops of government buildings in Athens, and commando Special Forces were also on standby as helicopters began patrolling the Athenian skyline.
“It will be one of the biggest security drills in recent years,” said a senior police official who chose to remain anonymous.
These extreme measures are being put in place because Merkel’s brief visit comes amid growing unrest in Greece over new cutbacks.Greek authorities, who are struggling to talk bailout creditors into unfreezing a vital loan installment, appear determined to prevent riots whilst Merkel is in town.
Public Order Minister, Nikos Dendias, called on protesters to “protect the peace, and above all our country’s prospects and our international image.”
Greece has depended on bailouts from fellow EU member states and the International Monetary Fund since May 2010. To get the loans, it implemented a series of deep income cuts and tax hikes, while increasing retirement ages and facilitating private sector layoffs.
However, Greece must axe another $17.5 billion over the next two years to qualify for its next rescue loan payment – without which the government will run out of cash next month.
Germany has provided most of the EU’s bailout fund – but has also remained one of Greece’s toughest critics, demanding more reforms from the Greeks to keep their economy solvent.
Tensions ahead of the visit are already simmering in the Greek capital, with thousands gathering in front of the parliament building in Syntagma Square, chanting against fresh budget cuts and burning an EU flag.