Greeks give Merkel a hard time

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

ATHENS, Greece -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel got a hostile reception from many ordinary Greeks on Tuesday when she flew into Athens on her first visit to the country since its debt crisis erupted three years ago.

But she praised the current Greek government for covering "much of the ground" required for recovery.

"I hope and wish that Greece remains a member of the eurozone," Merkel said. "As partners, we are working hard to achieve that."

Her visit triggered protests attended by some 50,000 demonstrators in Athens. The rallies were mostly peaceful, but police briefly clashed with several dozen demonstrators.

As Europe's largest contributor to the bailout fund that has rescued Greece from bankruptcy, Germany is viewed by many Greeks as the primary enforcer of the austerity measures the Greek government enacted in exchange for emergency aid.

Debt monitors will deliver a report in a few weeks about whether Greece should receive its next bailout payment, without which it will go bankrupt.

Merkel said the coalition government led by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras still had to push through more cost-cutting reforms.

"This is an effort that should be seen through because otherwise it would make the circumstances even more dramatic later on," Merkel said after her talks with Samaras.

Although the German leader dampened expectations in Athens of a stronger message of public support for Greece, Samaras said Merkel's visit had ended "the country's international isolation."

Greece has depended on bailouts from Europe and the International Monetary Fund since May 2010. To get the loans, it has implemented a series of deep budget cuts and tax hikes, while increasing retirement ages and facilitating private sector layoffs.

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