Tens of thousands of angry Greek protesters filled the streets of Athens on Tuesday to greet German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who offered sympathy but no promise of further aid.
Police fired teargas and stun grenades to hold back crowds chanting anti-austerity slogans and waving Nazi flags while Merkel’s host, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, welcomed her as a “friend” of Greece.
On her first visit to Greece since the euro zone crisis erupted three years ago, Merkel struck a conciliatory tone.
She reaffirmed Berlin’s commitment to keep the debt-crippled Greek state inside Europe’s single currency but offered Samaras no concrete relief ahead of a new report on Greece’s reform progress due by next month.
“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,” Merkel said at a news conference with Samaras just a few hundred yards from the mayhem on Syntagma Square, outside parliament.
“Precisely for that reason I want to say that much of the path is already behind us,” she added.
Samaras, who invited Merkel to Greece during a visit to Berlin in August, promised to press on with economic reforms necessary to restore confidence.
“The Greek people are bleeding but are determined to stay in the euro,” he said. “They are not asking for more money or favors. They only want to get back on their feet as soon as possible and exit this recession.”