German Chancellor Angela Merkel on
Tuesday pledged support for debt-laden Greece, which has "taken
significant steps," while calling for the austerity and reform drive
to continue during a six-hour visit to Athens.
"Significant steps have been taken, a major part of the road has been covered. It is worthwhile to reach the finish line so that the situation will not worsen," she said in joint statements to the press after talks with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras at his office.
It was Merkel's first visit to Greece since the outbreak of the financial crisis in Europe. A strong supporter of austerity, she noted her short stay helped her "better understand" the pain of the Greek people.
"I hope and wish Greece will stay in the euro. We will boost bilateral cooperation and do whatever is necessary to support Greece. It is our common interest to restore credibility within the eurozone since when one gets sick, everyone is not well," she said.
On Greece's part, Samaras reaffirmed his government's determination to fulfill commitments undertaken under bailout deals with European Union and International Monetary Fund lenders since 2010 in return of crucial multi-billion euros loans to keep the country afloat.
"Greek people are bleeding, but are determined to stay in the euro. We don't ask for favors, but a chance to stand on our feet. Greece will meet its commitments as long as it stays in the euro and counters recession" he said, adding that growth-oriented policies would follow beyond painful fiscal discipline measures.
"Those who bet on a Greek collapse and EU serious injury will lose," Samaras said, underlining the Chancellor's visit was a sign of faith that a new chapter has opened and Greece was on the way to recovery.
The Greek government hopes Merkel's show of support ahead of an EU summit on Oct. 18 will create a positive climate to clear further financial assistance to Greece to counter the crisis.
However, an estimated 80,000 protesters took on the streets, blaming the German leader and Greek political leadership for their suffering.
A protester was slightly injured and approximately 90 persons were detained during minor scuffles between hooded youth and police officers amid a major security operation in Athens comparable to 1999 when former U.S. President Bill Clinton visited.
Some 7,000 police officers were on alert as Merkel finished a short meeting with Greek President Karolos Papoulias and held talks with Greek and German business leaders before heading back for Germany on Tuesday evening.
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