With much fanfare, and as Athens News pointed out, 10 minutes early, the German delegation landed in Athens at 1:20 pm local time, and has brought with it 7,000 part-time Greek police jobs: look for a massive drop in the Greek unemployment rate next month. For the next 6 hours everyone will be praying that the ghost of Gavrilo Princip has not found a new host. In the meantime, the most inexplicable of official visits will take place as Angela Merkel paints the town red (hopefully not literally).
Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras arrived at Athens International Airport on Tuesday at around 1 p.m. to officially greet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a red-carpet welcome on what is her first visit to the Greek capital since the start of the crisis three years ago.
The German chancellor is expected to hold brief talks with Samaras, as well as pay a visit to Greek President Karolos Papoulias at the Presidential Mansion. She will then attend an event held by the Greek-German Chamber of Commerce at the Hilton Hotel, before departing for Berlin.
Greek authorities have staged the biggest security operation for a visiting dignitary since US President Bill Clinton visited the capital in 1999, bringing in some 7,000 police officers from other parts of the country, closing all main thoroughfares and placing snipers along Merkel's route, suspending public transport services in downtown Athens and deploying the full force of the riot police in front of Parliament and near the Presidential Mansion, which is just a few hundred meters from the Hilton Hotel.
Meanwhile, a few hundred protesters gathered in front of Parliament in an anti-austerity rally organized by Greece's two largest unions. The rally was reported to be peaceful, though police said that they had taken up to 35 people in custody in the area around Syntagma Square prior to the chancellor's arrival in an effort to control any likely escalation of protests.
And a live blog of all the action via Athens News:
- 3.05pm Merkel and Samaras have finished their tete a tete and begun a working lunch.
- 2.50pm TV stations opt to replay and comment on Samaras and Merkel interactions rather than show footage of the protest, while they await the joint press statement at 4pm.
- 2.40pm Net commentators debate: what is the symbolic significance of the fact that Merkel is wearing the same outfit she wore to the Greece versus Germany soccer match?
- 2.35pm Tsipras says from Syntagma "Merkel came to greece to support the Merkelists of greece. She came to support them, but instead she gave Greece and our allies the chance to say to all that the democratic legacy of europe will not allow Greece to become the lab rat of the crisis."
- 2.30pm It's difficult to put a number on the demonstration in central Athens, but eyewitnesses say that Syntagma is pretty full, as is Stadiou St (from where protesters attending the Pame trade union rally are coming), and Amalias Avenue.
- 2.25pm There are reports that police detained 40 people by 2pm. One eyewitness, Theodora Oikonomides (@IrateGreek), said she saw police taking 20 schoolgoers into preventative detention in the space of 15 minutes because they were carrying school bags.
- 2.27pm One observation we made about the arrival of two leaders at the Maximos Mansion: both opened their own car doors. We're not sure if this is an effect of austerity or an attempt to show a common touch.
- 2.12pm They are now inside, chit-chatting on the couch. Both spoke in English, with Samaras showing much more proficiency. "This is my office," Samaras said. Responding, Merkel asked where the cabinet met. She's clearly here for business.
- 2.10pm Antonis Samaras and Angela Merkel have reached the Megaros Mansion. Doing lots of pointing, Merkel seems very curious to know what's in the area and what the building is.
- 2.07pm There was quite a bit of booing at the calvacade as it passed the Erricos Dynan Hospital, some where workers have not been paid for months. According to Skai TV, some water bottles were thrown on the road as the cars passed. Earlier, there were angry scenes as hospital workers, who tried to get onto the road, were pushed back by riot police.
- 1.55pm But on the other side of that barrier, there's a massive protest taking place on a thronged Syntagma Square. The country’s main private- and public-sector trade union federations, GSEE and Adedy, called a work stoppage from noon until 3pm and started a protest at 1pm at Syntagma Square, which along with Omonia Square is not included in the “red zone”. The Syriza leader, Alexis Tsipras, and the head of Germnay’s Left Party (Die Linke), Bernd Riexinger, have said they will attend. The Communist-backed Pame union will hold a rally at the same time on Omonia Square. Syntagma and Omonia are not covered by the protest ban.The protest extends all the way down Stadiou Street.Here's a photo posted to Twitter by Apostolis Fotiadis (@Balkanizator) from Syntagma:Here are some more photos from the protests:
- 1.50pm While waiting for the leaders' arrival at the Maximos Mansion, it's time to take a look at what's going in the centre. Things have come to a standstill in the "red zone" declared by the police in which all demonstrations and gatherings have been banned until 10pm. Here's a photograph showing the steel barrier that police erected to seal off the entrance to parliament and the street on which the prime minister's and president's residences are located:
- 1.45pm Angela Merkel last visited Greece in July 2007. What's on the schedule for her six-hour visit today? Here's a breakdown:
- 2.15pm Samaras and Merkel to hold private talks at his official residence, the Maximos Mansion. This will be followed by a press joint press conference and then lunch.
- 4.45pm Merkel to meet with President Karolos Papoulias
- 5.30pm Samaras and Merkel will meet with Greek and German business leaders, after which the chancellor will return to Germany
- 1.41pm The calvacade containing the leaders and entourage has not departed the airport for the drive into Athens.
- 1.40pm Samaras introduced the chancellor to a number of ministers, including Avramopoulos (foreign), Stournaras (finance) and Hadzidakis (development), and a number of his advisors.
- 1.34pm And there's the German national anthem, followed by the Greek. Both leaders are looking very serious indeed.
- 1.32pm The chancellor, wearing an olive green jacket, has disembarked and was greeted on the red carpet by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.
- 1.30pm The place was scheduled to land at 1.30pm, so the Germans have arrived ten minutes early. The door has been opened.
- 1.20pm The plane carrying the chancellor has just landed at Athens international airport. Shortly after it touched down, the pilots put out small Greek and German flags from the cockpit window.