Samaras hoping for boost from Merkel visit to Athens on Tuesday

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras hailed on Friday as ?very positive? the surprise decision by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to come to Athens for talks on Tuesday, although unions and opposition parties reacted to the news by announcing protests to coincide with her visit.

The Greek government sees the visit as being highly significant as it will come at a time when Athens is trying to agree with the troika on the details of the 13.5-billion-euro austerity package needed to unlock further bailout installments, a day after the meeting of eurozone finance ministers and a few days before the European Union leaders? summit on October 18, even though sources in Brussels said that no final decision on Greece will be taken then.

?The trip comes against the backdrop of this very difficult situation that Greece is going through right now, the massive adjustment and reform measures that have shaped Greece for the past two years,? Merkel?s spokesman Steffen Seibert told a news conference. ?We see that the reform efforts have increased under the Samaras government and we want to support that.?

Sources told Kathimerini that the visit was arranged last Friday during a phone call between the two leaders, who met in Berlin in August, and is being interpreted by Athens as a move by Merkel to show that she is in favor of the next tranche being disbursed and Greece remaining in the eurozone despite the International Monetary Fund?s concerns about the sustainability of its debt. The debt issue is expected to play a key role in the troika?s report on the progress of the Greek program, which is due later this month.

?It was about time,? said Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker in response to the news of Merkel?s plans to visit Athens.

Merkel will also meet President Karolos Papoulias and PASOK chief Evangelos Venizelos but will not hold customary talks with the leader of the main opposition, Alexis Tsipras of SYRIZA.

It is thought Berlin was in two minds about Merkel meeting Tsipras but decided against it after SYRIZA reacted to news of her visit by calling for people to join the work stoppage and protest organized by Greece two main unions, ADEDY and GSEE. SYRIZA said the meeting was ?further evidence of the government?s subservience to bankers and capital.? The leftists said they were not interested in holding talks with Merkel.

The right-wing Independent Greeks also called for a symbolic encircling of the German Embassy in Athens when Merkel visits.

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