Clashes As Angela Merkel Arrives In Athens
Tens of thousands of Greeks have taken to the streets of Athens as the German Chancellor visits the capital to offer support to a government struggling to implement fresh austerity cuts.
Police clashed with protesters, firing tear gas and stun grenades as they attempted to break through a barrier set up to protect the Angela Merkel and her delegation.
Dozens of protesters were detained in what police said was one of the capital's biggest demonstrations in months.
Some of the activists had been wearing Nazi insignia in protest at the austerity measures - for which they blame the German Chancellor - and a swastika flag was burned.
Mrs Merkel is the first German leader to visit Greece in decades and is making her first trip since the debt crisis began here three years ago.
Deemed highly symbolic, Mrs Merkel's seven-hour stay signals the attempt by Europe's most powerful lender to keep its poorest peer, Greece, within the 17-nation eurozone.
After meeting Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, Mrs Merkel promised the Greek people that the "tough path" their country is on would pay off.
She praised Athens for what she described as "important successes" in reforming its economy, but said more work was needed to reduce the country's debt mountain.
"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," she said.
"Precisely for that reason I want to say that much of the path is already behind us. A lot has been accomplished.
"This is an effort that should be seen through because otherwise it would make the circumstances even more dramatic later on."
Mrs Merkel was keen to further mend relations with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who was among the Chancellor's most outspoken critics at the start of the crisis.
"The stakes are enormous," said George Pagoulatos, professor of European Politics and Economy at Athens University.
"It is a seminal moment for Europe."
Demonised for her tough talking, uncompromising stance and widely depicted as the poster girl of fiscal frugality, the German Chancellor has received a hostile reception.
More than 7,000 police officers, secret agents, snipers and commandos were deployed across the capital in the biggest security drill since then-US President Bill Clinton visited Athens after sanctioning the Nato-led bombing raids in Kosovo 13 years ago.
A flurry of protests were planned throughout the day. GSEE and ADEDY, the umbrella labour unions for private and public sector employees, had called for a three-hour strike across the greater Athens area from noon, bringing the country's already anaemic economy to a fresh standstill.
Looming budget cuts have uncorked fresh social unrest, with the young, firebrand leader of Greece's main opposition party, Syriza, also calling on workers to flood the streets of Athens to show Merkel "the real Greece".
Late on Monday, police ordered a ban on protest gathering, but opposition parties have defied the decree, urging Greeks to gather at the German embassy.
Since his election in June, Mr Samaras has been struggling to agree with international lenders on a fresh batch of brutal budget cuts.
Failure to clinch a deal on the $11.5bn (£9.2bn) euro cuts could trigger a key meeting of European leaders next week, forcing them to block a $31bn (£25bn) loan instalment to cash-strapped Greece, pushing it to bankruptcy within weeks.
That in turn could imperil the fate of the European currency, which Mrs Merkel has built her legacy on, proving invaluable in efforts to keep the eurozone intact.
By signalling her support for Greece to stay in the troubled eurozone, pundits, politicians and skittish market investors expect the visit to nudge the budget talks to a compromise solution, paving the way for Europe's disbursal of vital bailout funds.
Athens has said it has enough money to pay pensions and its expenses until the start of November.