As Athens Protests, Germany Scoffs over Greece Debt Bailout

By Francis, David | The Christian Science Monitor, March 11, 2010 | Go to article overview
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As Athens Protests, Germany Scoffs over Greece Debt Bailout

Francis, David, The Christian Science Monitor

Protesters took to the streets of Athens on Thursday over government austerity measures. But anger is also growing in Germany at being asked to finance the Greece debt bailout.

More than 20,000 Greeks took to the streets of Athens on Thursday to protest planned government spending cuts and to express their anger over Germany's refusal to provide financial assistance to ease the Greece debt crisis.

Protestors fought with riot police, smashed storefront windows, and set fire to cars and buses as law enforcement authorities responded with tear gas and stun grenades. Such protests have occurred regularly in recent weeks over the government's cost- cutting measures in response to Greece's ballooning national debt. Austerity steps taken so far include raising the retirement age from 63 to 65 and lowering government workers' wages 8 percent.

Anti-German sentiment has tinged the protests, since the European Union's wealthiest nation has hesitated to finance a bailout for its southeastern neighbor. Greece was further inflamed when two German legislators suggested Greece sell some of its islands to pay off its debt, and one newspaper even suggested they sell the Acropolis.

IN PICTURES: Top 10 things Greece can sell to pay off its debt

Tensions eased last week when German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou. She said the two reached "an understanding," though their truce did little to quell anger on both sides of the aisle.

Germany's politicians and public have asked why they should be on the hook for Greece's debt. They're enraged that the Greeks have dredged up World War II memories, with one Greek lawmaker demanding Germany pay reparations for the Nazi occupation. German workers, who recently saw their retirement age rise from 65 to 67, want Greece workers to chin up, too.

"There is the impression in Germany that the Greeks are not doing enough to reform their system," says Joerg Wolf, author of the Atlantic Review, a popular blog that tracks German politics. "They rely on others to bail them out without making sufficient efforts themselves."

Tabloids fuel populist anger

The Bild newspaper - regarded here as the paper of the people - has led the populist backlash against Greece.

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