Merkel trip sees riot police and protesters clash

Julian Harris
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GERMAN Chancellor Angela Merkel faced angry protests yesterday during her first visit to crisis-struck Greece since the summer of 2007.

Tens of thousands of irate Greeks took to the streets of Athens in protests against austerity measures that are imposed as conditions for the Eurozone state receiving ongoing tranches of its bailout.

Merkel has maintained a stubborn position in recent months, insisting that peripheral debt-crises in Europe are the fault of unsustainable government profligacy that must be countered but cutbacks and reforms.

But yesterday the German leader spoke in a more conciliatory and sympathetic tone. “I have come here today in full knowledge that the period Greece is living through right now is an extremely difficult one for the Greeks and many people are suffering,” she said at a new conference with Greek PM Antonis Samaras.

“Precisely for that reason I want to say that much of the path is already behind us,” she added.

Samaras – who heads an already-unpopular coalition – welcomed Merkel as a “friend” of Greece.

“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.”

While the pair spoke, riot police clashed with protesters in the streets surrounding parliament.

Up to 50,000 Greeks are believed to have defied a ban in order to flood the streets, with 30 suffering serious injuries and police reporting that 300 people were detained.

The troika of bailout providers – the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund – are currently in Greece inspecting progress over pledged reforms. Merkel admitted that she is waiting for the troika to report before pledging to back more bailout funds.