Cookie consent

We use cookies to improve your experience on this website. By continuing to browse our site you agree to our use of cookies. Tell me more | Cookie preferences

Protesters rally as Merkel voices support for austerity-hit Greece

Story highlights

  • President Papoulias says growth and jobs are needed to give the Greek people hope
  • "We welcome a friend here today," Antonis Samaras says of the German leader
  • Police say 25,000 people joined a protest voicing anger over Angela Merkel's visit
  • Critics see Merkel as the main enforcer of internationally imposed austerity measures

German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed solidarity with Greece Tuesday on a trip to Athens, even as tens of thousands of Greeks rallied to show their anger toward her over the hardship their country is suffering.

Critics see Merkel as the main enforcer of the European Union-imposed austerity measures that have left a large number of Greeks unemployed and streaming to soup kitchens for a hot meal.

Police estimated that as many as 25,000 people turned out to demonstrate in central Athens, despite a ban on protests in certain areas amid beefed-up security for Merkel's six-hour stay.

Merkel, who was making her first visit to Athens in several years, spoke of Greece as a partner and a friend to Germany as she addressed reporters with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

Merkel noted that Greece was going through a "very difficult phase" in which many people were suffering, but she insisted the debt-stricken nation had made progress in reducing its deficit and passing reforms.

"It's for this reason that I would like to say that a huge part of the journey has already been accomplished," she said.

Angry protestors greet Merkel in Greece

    Just Watched

    Angry protestors greet Merkel in Greece

Angry protestors greet Merkel in Greece 02:41
Greek protesters: Merkel not welcome

    Just Watched

    Greek protesters: Merkel not welcome

Greek protesters: Merkel not welcome 01:53
Merkel: Greek 'progress has been made'

    Just Watched

    Merkel: Greek 'progress has been made'

Merkel: Greek 'progress has been made' 05:13
Anger in Athens over austerity

    Just Watched

    Anger in Athens over austerity

Anger in Athens over austerity 02:22

"Germany and Greece are going to work very closely together," she added, as fellow members of Europe and the euro single currency.

Thousands protest austerity measures in Greece

Samaras, whose coalition government is seeking new ways to implement budget cuts of 11.5 billion euros ($14.49 billion) to ensure the country receives another international bailout installment this month, also stressed the strong ties between the two nations.

"The Greeks are proud and they know how to show support for their friends, and we welcome a friend here today," Samaras said of Merkel.

Greece would show those speculators who had wagered on its collapse and exit from the eurozone that they were wrong, he said.

Greek President Karolos Papoulias also welcomed Merkel's visit at what he said was a very difficult time for his people.

"They have nearly exhausted how much they can take. And of course we need to think of measures that will give hope to these people that are suffering," he said.

Those measures must include steps to boost growth and create jobs for young people and women, he told the German chancellor.

Merkel and Samaras met with Greek and German business leaders following their joint news conference.

The crowds of protesters who gathered in Syntagma Square, by the Greek parliament building, had largely dispersed by Tuesday evening. Earlier, a number of people were arrested after objects were thrown at riot police.

Many protesters, some of whom belong to labor unions and Syriza, the radical-left opposition party, carried anti-Merkel banners.

"Merkel we are a free nation and not your colony," said one banner. Another read, "Merkel Raus (out, in German). Murderer of 3,500 Greeks," a reference to the number of Greeks who have taken their own lives, according to some estimates, as a result of the current hardship.

Before her visit, Merkel told CNN she knows the austerity measures have been hard on some.

"It's very bitter obviously, sacrifices need to be made," she said. "But I think these are necessary measures that have to be taken, I think it was not easy for anyone to impose those measures on them, but these, I think, have been made on the background of great experience."

Analysts say that for Merkel, who faces a general election next year, the Athens trip also sends a message back home that she views Greece as an integral part of Europe.

While some within her own governing coalition have spoken of the need for contingency plans for a possible Greek exit from the euro, Merkel has signaled that she would view that outcome as extremely risky. However, many German taxpayers are opposed to committing more European funds to Greece.

In return for international bailout funds, Greece has agreed to the austerity program and labor market reforms -- measures that have led to violent street demonstrations in the past.

Speaking in Syntagma Square, Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras said Merkel had come to Athens in support of Samaras and his ministers "while the people are on their knees ahead of new, barbaric measures."

But, he said, her visit would allow the Greek people to send a message to the rest of Europe that they were stronger than those supporting the bankers and bailouts.

"The democratic tradition of Europe will not allow a European people, the Greek people, to be transformed into a crisis 'guinea pig' and for Greece to become a vast social cemetery. We will win in the end, because we are right and we are many," he said.

To comply with the belt-tightening measures, salaries have been cut for many workers in Greece, pensions and benefits have been slashed, and unemployment rates have soared.

As of May, 53.8% of Greeks younger than 25 were unemployed, according to Eurostat, the statistics division of the European Commission.

A number of those who demonstrated in Athens on Tuesday said it was the first time they had taken to the streets to protest the economic crisis -- a reflection, perhaps, of how widely the anger over austerity is now felt.

Many of the protesters were retirees, a group that has lost, in many cases, more than 30% of its income since the crisis hit. Retirees are also among the groups that will be most affected by the new measures to which Greece must agree in order to receive the next tranche of its international bailout loan.

Maria Kirioni, a 53-year-old civil servant, told CNN she was protesting for the first time since she was a university student. "Merkel does not know what is going on in Greece. She only hears the politicians' voices. We must show her. It would be better if she stayed longer to see the reality," Kirioni said.

Stella Gianakopoulou, a 56-year-old schoolteacher who lived in Wupertal, Germany, for 18 years, said: "Merkel will cause the eruption of Greek society, and then this will spread throughout southern Europe. This may lead to a eurozone collapse."

But Rafael Voulgarakis, a university student, welcomed the German chancellor's visit. "It is clearly positive, because as we know, Germany is the largest power in Europe at the moment and one of the largest powers in the world," he said. "It is clear that the support of Ms. Merkel is good for our country and is needed."

CNN iReporter Margaret Roesler, from Minnesota, saw the buildup to the protest. "It seemed like a fairly tense atmosphere," she said. "The main road near our apartment was absolutely deserted, seems like everything shut down for the day. Someone told us to use extreme caution and to leave as soon as possible, which we did."

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told Bild newspaper last week that Greece deserves "fairness and respect." He suggested that Merkel's visit represents a show of eurozone solidarity between nations that are fiscally healthy and those that are debt-ridden and battling savage cuts and social unrest.

Christoph Weil, a senior economist at Commerzbank, told CNN that Merkel's visit to Athens comes as a "surprise" and that there was "a significant risk that Greece will exit the euro in the next two years."

However, Wolfango Piccoli, director of Eurasia Group, says that the risk of a Greek exit from the eurozone remains "marginal" at the moment and that the so-called troika -- the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund -- will provide Greece with the next tranche of bailout funds to meet its debt obligations.

But Piccoli warns that the country will have to undergo stringent austerity measures before creditors will release any funds.

"The vast majority will come from an additional round of cuts to wages and pensions. It's going to be almost 8 billion euros of the 13.5 billion euros coming from that. The total cut is 11.5 billion euros and then 2 billion euros of additional taxes," he told CNN.

On Monday, the Eurogroup -- a meeting of eurozone finance ministers -- convened in Luxembourg to give the green light to the European Stability Mechanism, the 17-nation currency bloc's permanent bailout fund.

Spain is expected to be the first country to make a request for financial aid from the ESM.

      Europe's financial crisis

    • German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks with Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble during a session at the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) on June 25, 2013 in Berlin.

      German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble says the eurozone's problems are not solved, but "we are in a much better shape than we used to be some years ago."
    • IBIZA, SPAIN - AUGUST 21:  A man dives into the sea in Cala Salada beach on August 21, 2013 in Ibiza, Spain. The small island of Ibiza lies within the Balearics islands, off the coast of Spain. For many years Ibiza has had a reputation as a party destination. Each year thousands of young people gather to enjoy not only the hot weather and the beaches but also the array of clubs with international DJ's playing to vast audiences. Ibiza has also gained a reputation for drugs and concerns are now growing that the taking and trafficking of drugs is spiralling out of control.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

      Summer could not have come soon enough for Lloret de Mar, a tourist resort north of Barcelona. Despite the country's troubles, it's partying.
    • The Euro logo is seen in front of the European Central bank ECB prior to the press conference following the meeting of the Governing Council in Frankfurt/Main, Germany, on April 4, 2013.

      The global recovery has two speeds: That of the stimulus-fed U.S. and that of the austerity-starved eurozone, according to a new report.
    • The flags of the countries which make up the European Union, outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

      The "rich man's club" of Europe faces economic decay as it struggles to absorb Europe's "poor people", according to economic experts.
    • Packed beaches and Brit pubs? Not necessarily. Here's what drew travelers to one of Spain's most beautiful regions in the first place

      Spain's economic crisis is in its sixth straight year yet tourism, worth 11% of GDP, is holding its own, one of the few bright spots on a bleak horizon.
    • Photographer TTeixeira captured these images from a May Day protest in Porto, Portugal, Wednesday by demonstrators angered by economic austerity measures. "People protested with great order, but showed discontent against the government who they blame for this economic crisis," she said. "They want the government to resign and the Troika [European Commission, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank] out of this country."

      As European financial markets close for the spring celebration of May Day, protesters across Europe and beyond have taken to the streets to demonstrate.
    • Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic delivers a speech in Mostar, on April 9, 2013. Prime Ministers from Bosnia's neighboring countries arrived in Bosnia with their delegations to attend the opening ceremony of "Mostar 2013 Trade Fair".

      As Croatia prepares to enter the 27-nation European Union, the country's Prime Minister says Italy must return to being the "powerhouse of Europe."
    • Anti-eviction activists and members of the Platform for Mortgage Victims (PAH) take part in a protest against the government's eviction laws in front of the Popular Party (PP) headquarters in Mallorca on April 23, 2013.

      Spain's unemployment rate rose to a record high of 27.2% in the first quarter of 2013, the Spanish National Institute of Statistics said Thursday.
    • People protest against the Spanish laws on house evictions outside the Spanish parliament on February 12, 2013 in Madrid, Spain.

      Spain has seen hundreds of protests since the "Indignados" movement erupted in 2011, marches and sit-ins are now common sights in the capital.