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 chancellor’s official airplane touched down a few minutes before its scheduled 1.30 p.m. arrival, with Merkel greeted by the German and Greek national anthems, as well as by high-ranking government officials.
The German chancellor is expected to hold official talks with Samaras at the Maximos Mansion, as the two traveled in the same car from the airport into central Athens. She will then be visiting Greek President Karolos Papoulias at the Presidential Palace, before attending 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.