Authorities issued permits for only two of the planned protests. At least 7,000 police from across the country were deployed in Athens, including rooftop snipers, water cannons and hundreds of undercover agents. Security forces erected steel fences around the capital’s parliament building.
Thousands of protesters filled the streets, and police began to take position ahead of Merkel’s visit.
Eyewitnesses reported that police preemptively arrested demonstrators before Merkel’s arrival in Athens. At least 26 people were detained near Syntagma Square, including 12 students and every member of a ‘Solidarity Network’ protest bloc, seen with banners and megaphones.
Locals say snipers were already visibly stationed on the roof tops of government buildings in Athens, and commando Special Forces were also on standby as helicopters began patrolling the Athenian skyline.
“It will be one of the biggest security drills in recent years,” said a senior police official who chose to remain anonymous.
These extreme measures are being put in place because Merkel’s brief visit comes amid growing unrest in Greece over new cutbacks.Greek authorities, who are struggling to talk bailout creditors into unfreezing a vital loan installment, appear determined to prevent riots whilst Merkel is in town.
Public Order Minister, Nikos Dendias, called on protesters to “protect the peace, and above all our country’s prospects and our international image.”
Greece has depended on bailouts from fellow EU member states and the International Monetary Fund since May 2010. To get the loans, it implemented a series of deep income cuts and tax hikes, while increasing retirement ages and facilitating private sector layoffs.
However, Greece must axe another $17.5 billion over the next two years to qualify for its next rescue loan payment – without which the government will run out of cash next month.
Germany has provided most of the EU’s bailout fund – but has also remained one of Greece’s toughest critics, demanding more reforms from the Greeks to keep their economy solvent.
Tensions ahead of the visit are already simmering in the Greek capital, with thousands gathering in front of the parliament building in Syntagma Square, chanting against fresh budget cuts and burning an EU flag.
More than 8,000 protesters vented their frustration at German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who they see as an instigator of their crippling reform program.
The main banner in front of parliament read, “Angela, you are not welcome!”, written on a large German flag.