13 left-wing organizations gathered to rally against Angela Merkel, the EU, and the IMF, all linked to austerity measures imposed on the Greek people.
Greeks, who have rejected European Union-imposed austerity measures, demonstrated Thursday as German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged the government of Alexis Tsipras to press on with tough economic reforms and strict fiscal discipline.
This is Merkel’s first visit in nearly five years. Her insistence on austerity measures during Greece's debt crisis made her unpopular among Greeks who have faced tax increases and harsh pension and salary cuts in return for three bailouts since 2010.
"I realize that the last few years have been very difficult for many people in Greece," Merkel told Greek newspaper Kathimerini, adding the country had made “great progress” after three Eurozone and International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailouts.
Her comments and the heightened police presence (2,000 police were deployed in Athens, demonstrations were banned the greater part of the capital’s center and streets, and subway stations were shut down for security reasons) for Merkel’s 2-day visit were not enough to keep protesters off the street.
Clashes broke out in downtown Athens Thursday night, as anti-riot police shot tear gas towards protesters who chanted against Merkel, NATO, the EU, and the IMF as they made their way to the EU’s offices.
Thirteen left-wing organizations and collectives participated in demonstrations against "representatives of German imperialism."
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, trailing badly in opinion polls ahead of a parliamentary election this year, has promised to reverse some unpopular reforms following the expiry last August of the third international bailout since 2010.
Germany is also concerned about the Tsipras government's ability to push through parliament an agreement it clinched with neighboring Macedonia that would change that country's name to the Republic of North Macedonia.
Merkel seeks to encourage Greek politicians to support the deal, under which the former Yugoslav republic will be renamed North Macedonia in return for Greece dropping its objections to the country joining NATO and the EU.
However, Tsipras' right-wing coalition partner, the Independent Greeks, has threatened to quit the government if the deal comes before parliament. Many Greeks want the country's northern neighbor to drop "Macedonia" from its name, saying it implies a territorial claim on a northern Greek province of the same name.
On Friday, Merkel will meet Kyriakos Mitsotakis, leader of the conservative New Democracy party, which is leading in opinion polls and is also opposed to the deal with Macedonia.
The issue of World War II reparations for Greek victims of the brutal Nazi occupation and the repayment of a loan Greece was forced to make to Germany at that time may also be raised during Merkel's two-day visit, diplomats said.