Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Crackdown as German minister visits

Lawmakers and supporters of the left wing opposition party Syriza shout slogans during a protest in front of the Greek parliament in Athens (AP)

Germany's finance minister has visited Greece amid massive police security, insisting there was "no convenient short cut" for the country's bailout programme.

Wolfgang Schaeuble, 70, is widely seen in Greece as an enforcer of the country's harsh austerity measures and has been often singled out for criticism by protesters.

Mr Schaeuble, on his first visit to Greece since its financial crisis broke out in 2009, said the country had made impressive progress in efforts to balance its budget. But he added that the debt-strapped country had little choice other than to press ahead with painful reforms.

"There is no way around structural and fiscal reforms ... There is no convenient short cut," Mr Schaeuble said.

More than 4,000 police officers were on duty for his one-day visit, which occurred a day after Parliament narrowly agreed to thousands of public sector job cuts.

Demonstrations have been banned throughout Athens during the trip. The German minister is due to meet conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and other senior Greek officials.

Police placed parliament and the city's main Syntagma Square off limits to protesters, in security measures that were more extensive than those reserved for heads of government.

Busy downtown subway stations were also closed for the day, while traffic restrictions were imposed along the route from Athens International Airport into the capital.

Tough austerity measures have helped keep Greece in the euro but have seen an alarming rise in poverty and unemployment since the country was first bailed out in 2010 by other euro countries and the International Monetary Fund.

Parliament narrowly approved the new austerity measures demanded by rescue creditors which will mean mass job losses in Greece's bloated public sector - a measure that has triggered a new round of large protests.

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