Worried that planned protests during German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Athens on Oct. 9 could escalate into violence, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras had directed that all rallies and gatherings be banned while she’s in the city to meet him, and the government will put snipers on rooftops and have Army commandos on standby in helicopters.
The security will even higher than for then-U.S. President Bill Clinton’s visit in 1999 and the ban on gatherings hasn’t happened since the days of the military junta that was overthrown in 1974. Samaras earlier had vowed to stop violence at protests after unpaid ship workers earlier this month stormed the Defense Ministry and clashed with police.
Government officials said most of the area in downtown Athens would be sealed off although it was reported that there would be some access for protesters and it was unclear how the government would react if demonstrators try to break the barricades that will be in place for 13 hours to protect Merkel and keep her from seeing any protests.
Demonstrators marched through Athens the day before Merkel’s visit and labor unions called for a work stoppage and mass protests while was to be meeting with Samaras and other government officials as the Prime Minister tries to get a $17.45 billion spending cut and tax hike plan approved by international lenders to release more loans needed to keep the economy afloat.
Merkel’s visit was seen as a show of support for Samaras after he came to Berlin last month to meet her and also a sign that she is in favor Greece staying in the Eurozone of countries using the euro, although she has not relented on her demands for more pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions that have made her an enemy to many Greeks and stoked up anti-German feelings unseen since the end of WWII and the Nazi occupation.
To fend off potential attacks, at least 7,000 plainclothes police and hundreds more undercover agents have been mobilized from across the country to lock down the capital and erect steel fences around Parliament, the favorite gathering place of protests, CNBC reported. Snipers were already visibly stationed on the roof tops of government buildings in Athens and helicopters were already patrolling the skies.
Samaras has his hands full. The New Democracy leader is trying to convince the partners in his coalition government to go along with more austerity measures and the Democratic Left, which opposed them before the June 17 elections, has relented and PASOK Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos has put only feeble protests against some of the toughest conditions.
That has left it to the major opposition party, the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) to fight against more pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions and the party’s leader, Alexis Tsipras, joined labor union leaders in urging Greeks to defy the ban on gathering and confront police downtown to show Merkel the face of resistance. The Independent Greeks said they will try to form a human shield around the German Embassy but it was not clear if they would even be allowed near it.
“The stakes are enormous,” George Pagoulatos, professor of European Politics and Economy at Athens University, told CNBC. “That Merkel, however, has agreed to come to Athens and afford political backing to Samaras demonstrates in most demonstrable way possible, her decision to tackle Europe’s debt troubles with Greece within the euro equation.”
(Sources: AMNA, dv, Athens News, Kathimerini)