German leader Merkel heads to Athens; demonstrations banned
AP, , Thursday 10 Jan 2019


Authorities have banned demonstrations in a large section of central Athens and will shut down streets and subway stations during a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who arrives in the Greek capital Thursday afternoon for meetings with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and other officials.

Around 2,000 officers, a police helicopter and drones will be deployed for the visit, which ends Friday afternoon.

Germany was the largest single contributor to the three international bailout packages Greece received since 2010 as it struggled through a dramatic financial crisis which almost saw it crash out of the eurozone.

Germany was also seen as one of the main enforcers of stringent austerity measures, including tax hikes and pension and salary cuts, imposed in return for the rescue loans.

Merkel and Tsipras have met in person many times over the course of the past few years, but this will be the first time the German chancellor visits Athens during Tsipras' government. He came to power in a January 2015 election on a strongly anti-bailout and anti-Merkel campaign, famously once declaring during a campaign speech before European elections: ``Go back, Mrs. Merkel!''

Greece saw its economy shrink by a quarter during the crisis, with unemployment reaching highs of 28 percent, and 58 percent for young people. The jobless rate has since fallen to just below 19 percent.

``I know that the last few years were very difficult for many people in Greece,'' Merkel said in a statement to the Athens daily Kathimerini newspaper before her visit. ``Europe showed its solidarity with its three aid packages and supported Greece in its course of reforms towards fiscal and economic stability. It was doubtless a difficult course.''

Greece emerged from its third and final bailout in August last year, but its economy will remain under strict supervision and it has pledged further reforms to ensure its finances remain on track.

``With the completion of the third adjustment program last year, Greece has made great progress,'' Merkel told Kathimerini. ``This should be an incentive for the future.''

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