German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived
in Greece on her first visit since Europe's debt crisis erupted three years ago, braving protests to deliver a message of support – but no new money – to a nation hammered by recession and fighting to stay in the European Union.
Thousands of Greeks defied a ban on protests, gathering in Syntagma square in central Athens as Merkel's plane touched down. Two protesters dressed in German military uniforms waved a red-black-and-white swastika flag and held out their arms in the Nazi salute.
Many Greeks blame Merkel for forcing painful cuts on Greece in exchange for two EU-IMF bailout packages totaling over 200 billion Euros.
Police have readied 6,000 officers, including anti-terrorist units and rooftop snipers, to provide security during the six-hour visit. German sites in the Greek capital, including the embassy and Goethe Institute, are under special protection.
Merkel was given the red carpet treatment and full military honors at Athens airport. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras greeted
her with a handshake as she exited the German air force jet. A band played the German and Greek national anthems.
In the center of Athens, the reception was less warm. On Syntagma square, banners read "Merkel out, Greece is not your colony" and "This is not a European Union, it's slavery."
"We don't want her here. Merkel go home!," said Maria Dimitriou, a 40-year-old unemployed woman who travelled to Athens from southern Greece to protest. "They've turned our lives into hell."
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