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Why did Greece give Merkel such a chilly reception? (+video)

Some 50,000 protesters turned out to greet Angela Merkel in Athens Tuesday, in the German chancellor's first visit to the fiscally beleaguered country in five years.

By Derek GatopoulosAssociated Press, Nicholas PaphitisAssociated Press / October 9, 2012

Riot police shields are splattered with paint thrown by protesters during a protest in front of the parliament in Athens on Tuesday as German Chancellor Angela Merkel makes her first visit to Greece since the eurozone crisis began here three years ago.

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

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Athens, Greece

German Chancellor Angela Merkel got a hostile reception from many ordinary Greeks Tuesday when she flew into Athens on her first visit to the country since its debt crisis erupted three years ago.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel travelled to Greece for the first time since the euro zone crisis broke out to show her support for their austerity measures. Her visit was accompanied by angry protests. After five years of recession, many Greeks can't take any more. Joanna Partridge reports

But she praised the current Greek government for covering "much of the ground" required for recovery.

"I hope and wish that Greece remains a member of the eurozone," Merkel said. "As partners, we are working hard to achieve that."

Her visit triggered protests attended by some 50,000 demonstrators in Athens. The rallies were mostly peaceful, but police briefly clashed with several dozen demonstrators and detained nearly 200 people throughout the day.

As Europe's largest contributor to the bailout fund that has rescued Greece from bankruptcy, Germany is viewed by many Greeks as the primary enforcer of the austerity measures the Greek government enacted in exchange for emergency aid.

Merkel, who stopped in Athens for five hours, said the coalition government led by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras still had to push through more key cost-cutting reforms.

"Much of the ground has been covered ... There is daily progress," Merkel said after talks with Samaras. "This is an effort that should be seen through because otherwise it would make the circumstances even more dramatic later on."

Although the German leader damped expectations in Athens of a stronger message of public support for Greece, Samaras saidMerkel's visit had ended "the country's international isolation."

Greece has depended on bailouts from Europe and the International Monetary Fund since May 2010. To get the loans, it has implemented a series of deep budget cuts and tax hikes, while increasing retirement ages and facilitating private sector layoffs.

However, Athens must pass further austerity measures worth €13.5 billion ($17.5 billion) over the next two years to qualify for its next rescue loan payment — without which the government will run out of cash next month.

Enduring austerity is set to extend Greece's recession to a sixth year in 2013 and push the rate of unemployment up to nearly 25 percent, according to government estimates.

"Greece is determined to carry out its commitment and overcome the crisis," Samaras said. "At this moment, the country is bleeding but is determined to remain in the euro ...We are not asking for more money or favors — but only a chance to stand on its feet."

Merkel's stop in Athens was welcomed by the Greek government as a much-needed boost for the country's future in Europe — but protesters viewed it as a harbinger of further austerity and hardship.

Dozens of youths broke away from the peaceful rally and threw rocks and flares at riot police, who responded with pepper spray and stun grenades, in clashes that were relatively minor.

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