Merkel tells Greeks of need for cuts

Wed, Oct 10, 2012, 01:00

ON HER first visit to Greece since the onset of the debt crisis, Germany’s chancellor has told austerity-weary Greeks that while she’s “fully aware” of the difficult juncture they are in, they have few options but to persist with fiscal adjustment.

“It is worth Greece’s while to continue, because if it does not the situation will be even tougher in the future,” Angela Merkel said during a press conference with her Greek counterpart, Antonis Samaras.

Dr Merkel, who had come under domestic criticism for her failure to visit Greece, said it was her “hope and wish” that Greece remains in the euro zone and underlined that the disbursement of the next €31 billion tranche of bailout loans is dependent on the forthcoming report from the country’s lending troika, comprising the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.

However, the chancellor provided no indication of when that report will be completed or what it will recommend. Telling Dr Merkel that the “Greek people are bleeding but are determined to stay in the euro”, the Greek leader maintained his country had no choice but to implement the terms of its bailout programmes and carry out overdue structural reforms.

Later, citing sources in the premier’s office, local reports said the next tranche would only be paid out if 89 outstanding structural reforms – including budget cuts, administrative overhauls, privatisations, and labour market and tax reforms – were implemented.

But receiving the chancellor after her meeting with Mr Samaras, Greece’s president said Greeks were at breaking point.

“The Greek people are experiencing trying times and have nearly exhausted their limits of endurance. We must think of measures that can provide hope – especially measures to spur growth and combat youth unemployment, which is higher even than Spain,” Karolos Papoulias said.

Giving public expression to that message were the estimated 80,000 people who attended anti-austerity demonstrations in central Athens, despite a massive police operation involving 7,000 officers and a ban on protests.

The draconian drive to prevent Dr Merkel from seeing any dissent during her six-hour stay was lampooned in a front-page cartoon in the Ta Nea daily, which showed a cleaner sweeping demonstrators under the red carpet leading to the German government jet.

One protester, Stella Mouroutsou (25), claimed Greece had lost its sovereignty to the German leader, who needed to understand how hard it is for Greeks. “I’ve got a college degree, and I can’t get a full-time job or even a part-time job with a living wage. These austerity measures have destroyed the country.

Other protesters resorted to anti-German stereotypes. Heading a group of protesting municipal employees at Syntagma Square was a black army vehicle with men dressed in Nazi uniforms and holding a swastika flag. The flag was burned. Later on the square, a group of army special forces reservists appeared in full uniform, chanting “Together, let’s throw the Nazis out”.

Some demonstrators tried to force their way through a steel barrier and police responded with stun grenades and tear gas. Hooded elements hurled missiles. The protest took a surreal turn when a man ran around naked.