Greeks Protest German Chancellor's Athens Visit

Tens of thousands of angry Greeks protested eurozone-imposed austerity measures as German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived for her first visit to Greece since the debt crisis erupted three years ago. Merkel struck a conciliatory tone but Greeks carried banners reading: Merkel out, Greece is not your colony.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was in Athens yesterday for the first time since the debt crisis began almost three years ago. Her short visit was punctuated by large protests against Germany's perceived role in imposing austerity measures on Greece.

Joanna Kakissis reports from Athens.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: They shouted, get out of Greece, Merkel. And it was one of the milder sentiments heard from the 40,000 people protesting her visit.

Just a few steps away, a group of army reservists actually chanted: Get out Nazis. Nikos Dimopoulos, one of the reservists, says the institutions lending Greece billions in bailout loans are demanding insane spending cuts. They're invading us, he said.

NIKOS DIMOPOULOS: We believe that this situation is threatening the existence of our country. Everything collapses here: defense, health, social security, education - everything.

KAKISSIS: Germany is Europe's biggest economy and has contributed most of the eurozone loans to Greece. It's also been a cheerleader of austerity, says Christos Katsioulis. He's with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, a German think tank based in Athens.

CHRISTOS KATSIOULIS: The problem is that Germany hasn't responded in a more sympathetic way and a, you know, more human way. They have acted in a technocratic way - maybe in a very German way, but you need to approach Greeks differently.

KAKISSIS: And Merkel seems to realize that. Here she speaks through a Greek translator at a press conference during her visit.

CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: (German spoken)

KAKISSIS: I know a lot is being asked of the Greek people, she says, but a big part of this tough journey is already over. In a country where the unemployment is nearly 25 percent and rising, what's ahead seems much tougher.

For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens.

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