A protester holds a placard of German Chancellor Angela Merkel featuring a Hitler moustache near the Greek parliament in Athens on October 9, 2012.
An hour after Merkel’s arrival in Athens on Tuesday, Greek police fired tear gas to disperse over 25,000 anti-austerity protesters in front of the parliament. Security forces also arrested a group of demonstrators.
Outraged protesters were carrying banners declaring “You are not welcome, Imperialisten Raus” (Imperialists out)” or “No to the Fourth Reich” while others carried signs marked with the Nazi swastika.
Earlier in the day, more than 7,000 police forces were positioned near the German embassy and the Greek Parliament building in the city center ahead of the German Chancellor’s six-hour visit to the debt-ridden country.
Merkel visits the country for the first time since the eurozone economic crisis began in 2009. She is blamed by the Greeks for pressuring their government to enforce harsh austerity measures.
“This visit pours oil on the fire. If she wanted to help, she should have done it sooner,” said Vana Koronaiou, a Greek shop owner among the protesters.
Greece has been at the epicenter of the eurozone debt crisis and is experiencing its fifth year of recession, while harsh austerity measures have left about half a million people without jobs.
“I have a doctorate and I make 900 euros a month, 400 less than before. We have children that go hungry and most of the parents are unemployed,” said Christina Vassilopoulou, a 37-year-old teacher in an impoverished Athens district, adding that she had turned up to protest “the decisions taken at European meetings where Merkel manipulates the participants”.
On October 1, the Greek government unveiled its 2013 draft budget, which includes measures that would affect pensions, benefits, and the salaries of civil servants to meet the criteria by the troika of lenders, i.e. the European Union (EU), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB).
The new austerity program includes measures to slash pensions by 3.5 billion euros, health cuts worth 1.47 billion euros as well as a 517-million-euro reduction in defense spending. However, the measures have not convinced the troika.