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Greece Girds For Merkel Visit

Escorts of people with disabilities try to break through a police formation outside parliament during a rally against new austerity measures in Athens in late September.
Greek police were preparing a security crackdown to contain potential unrest during a visit to Athens by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Police said more than 6,000 officers were being deployed and public gatherings would be banned in some areas on October 9 to prevent riots during Merkel’s planned six-hour visit.

One day earlier, thousands of Greek trade unionists and others demonstrated in Athens to protest Merkel’s visit, chanting slogans against her and further austerity measures that have been backed by her government in Athens.

Many Greeks blame Merkel for forcing the debt-burdened country to implement harsh reforms in exchange for international bailout deals to avoid bankruptcy.

Germany, the EU’s biggest economy, has contributed the most of any single country to Greece’s multibillion-euro bailouts.

The Greek government is currently amid negotiations with lenders on more budget cuts to secure the next installment of a 130-billion-euro bailout.

Without the next tranche -- of 31.5 billion euros -- the Greek government says it will run out of money by the end of November.

During her visit, Merkel was expected to offer encouragement to Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras -- like Merkel, a conservative -- as he moved to impose more reforms in the face of virulent opposition from ordinary Greeks who were frustrated after years of recession and spending cuts.

It was to be the German leader’s first visit to Athens since the Greek debt crisis emerged in 2009.

Merkel has said she is committed to keeping Greece in the eurozone, believing it to be preferable to the financial turmoil that could erupt if Greece were to quit the currency now used by 17 countries.

"I am looking forward to the visit and I know that Greece is not having an easy time at the moment," Merkel said in Berlin on October 8, "but on the other side I believe that it is also right and important, that we as the European Union and the euro bloc stay competitive, or become competitive, and we will have the talks with this sentiment in mind."

Greek teachers, doctors, and other public employees were planning to stage a work stoppage to protest Merkel on October 9, while trade unions and opposition political parties had vowed to protest in the streets, despite the increased police presence.

Greek Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias appealed for calm, urging protesters to protect the peace as well as Greece’s “international image.”

The head of the eurozone finance ministers group, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, on October 8 called on Greece and international lenders to agree quickly on the new package of Greek reforms so that the next tranche of loans can be released to Athens.

In exchange for the 31.5 billion-euro tranche, Greece must approve 13.5 billon euros' worth of fresh cuts.

In a related development, finance ministers of the countries in the eurozone on October 9 launched the group’s permanent bailout fund.

The European Stability Mechanism (ESM) is planned to have a full lending capacity of 500 billion euros by 2014. The fund is intended to support struggling economies in return for strict fiscal and structural reforms.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and dpa