Athens on alert for Merkel

With German Chancellor Angela Merkel due in Athens Tuesday for a landmark visit widely seen as an expression of German support for Greece?s reform efforts and its prospects for staying in the eurozone, police have mounted the biggest security operation in the Greek capital since 1999 when Bill Clinton visited as US president.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who visited Merkel in Berlin a few weeks ago, is to receive the German leader at Athens airport and accompany her to the Maximos Mansion, where they will hold talks at around 2 p.m. before addressing the media. Merkel is also to meet President Karolos Papoulias and possibly Samaras?s coalition partners, but not with officials from leftist opposition SYRIZA, which has said it will demonstrate against the government?s austerity drive and the demands of Greece?s creditors.

According to sources, Samaras aims to secure two things from Merkel — her support for Greece?s efforts and her approval for some ?softer? countermeasures to the austerity package being negotiated between the government and the troika that would avert deeper cuts to salaries and pensions.

Security in the capital will be tight. Some 7,000 police officers will be on duty — many have been transferred from the provinces to bolster the force?s presence in Athens — with snipers set to guard the hotel where Merkel is to stay and much of the center to be cordoned off. Authorities may resort to the use of water cannons in the event that rallies get out of hand.

Rallies in parts of the city center that are to be cordoned off have been banned by police ?in the interests of public safety and the city?s socioeconomic life,? a move that provoked rebukes from unionists and from the junior coalition partners, socialist PASOK and Democratic Left. The country?s two largest labor unions, GSEE and ADEDY, who had been planning a rally in Syntagma Square and will be holding a three-hour work stoppage from noon, are likely to stage their rally in a square a few blocks away from Parliament.

Public transport will be disrupted with six metro stations — Syntagma, Panepistimio, Evangelismos, Megaro Mousikis, Ambelokipi and Katehaki — closed from 10 a.m. There will be no bus or trolley services between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. and the Proastiakos suburban railway will be suspended between noon and 3 p.m., during which time there will be no metro service between Doukissis Plakentias and Athens International Airport.

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