Greek police ban protests during visit by German finance minister

Schäuble accused of forcing cuts on Athens in return for bailouts

Demonstrators sit on a broken metal fence outside the Greek parliament during an anti-austerity protest in Athens last night. Photograph: Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

Demonstrators sit on a broken metal fence outside the Greek parliament during an anti-austerity protest in Athens last night. Photograph: Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

Thu, Jul 18, 2013, 11:30

Police have banned protests in central Athens today during a visit by German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, whom many accuse of forcing painful cuts on Greece in return for the multi-billion euro bailouts keeping it afloat.

With Greece now in a sixth year of a deep, austerity-fuelled recession, many of those struggling with record unemployment and plummeting living standards blame Germany’s insistence on fiscal rigour for their economic woes.

Hundreds of workers have taken to the streets in more than a week of rowdy protests against government plans to cut thousands of public sector jobs to please Greece’s European Union and International Monetary Fund lenders.

Prime minister Antonis Samaras’s coalition government scraped through a vote late on Wednesday on the divisive bill which includes the job losses, a condition for a further €7 billion in aid.

“Hail, Schäuble!” the leftist Avgi newspaper screamed on its front page today. “The moribund salute you,” it wrote above a stern-looking photograph of the minister.

The ban on demonstrations bans protesters from gathering in central parts of Athens, a police official said, including around parliament in Syntagma Square, the focus of often violent protests against cutbacks designed to tackle the debt crisis.

The ban includes groups of more than three people holding banners and shouting slogans, and will be in force from 9.00am to 8.00pm local time. Central metro stations will also be shut.

“Who is Mr Schäuble for you to prohibit Greek citizens from protesting against austerity?” asked Panagiotis Lafazanis, an MP from the radical leftist Syriza opposition party, which wants to tear up the bailout plan.

“You are governing the country like a protectorate, a banana republic.”

Tens of thousands of demonstrators defied a ban on protests during German chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to the Greek capital in October, while some pelted police with rocks, bottles and sticks. Pictures lampooning Dr Merkel as a latter-day Nazi, festooned with swastikas, are commonplace.

Mr Schäuble is visiting Athens for the first time since Europe’s debt crisis began in late 2009 to offer Greece €100 million for a fund to promote economic growth.

Some 3,500 police will be deployed in the streets of Athens during his visit, while another 3,000 will be on standby.

Reuters