4,000 police on duty for Schaeuble visit

Protests and gatherings banned in large swath of central Athens

Police ban all ‘public gatherings and rallies’ in huge swath of city centre from 9am and 8pm on Thursday, including Syntagma Square, focal points of scores of anti-austerity demonstrations

The Greek police has banned public protests in central Athens on Thursday for the duration of the visit of German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, a decision the main opposition party Syriza described as “fascist and undemocratic”.

More than 4,000 police officers are on duty for the visit, which follows Wednesday’s midnight vote in parliament that will allow the government sack public-sector workers for the fist time.

Police placed parliament and Syntagma Square off limits to protesters, in security measures that were more extensive than those reserved for heads of government. The city’s busiest metro stations were also closed for the day (see below), while traffic restrictions were imposed along the route from Athens airport into the centre.

Schaeuble is due to meet Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and other senior government officials on his long-anticipated trip – his first since the crisis broke out in late 2009.

A police statement issued on Wednesday said a cordon would be set up around the city centre in which “public gatherings and rallies” would be banned between 9am and 8pm.

The cordoned area includes parliament and Syntagma Square, focal points of scores of anti-austerity demonstrations.

Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras accused Samaras of trying to help his fellow conservatives in Germany ahead of the federal election in September.

“Mr Samaras is acting like a manager for the [German] Christian Democrat party, as Mr Schaeuble tours the countryside,” Tsipras said in parliament on Wednesday.

“He is coming here to support his catastrophic policies.”

“This action is fascist and undemocratic. It is inconceivable to have a demonstration and to exclude Syntagma Square. It is inconceivable for any European city,” Panos Skourletis, a Syriza spokesman told the AP.

“If we can’t go there, where are we supposed to go? Varkiza?” he added, referring to a seaside resort near Athens.

Schaeuble’s visit follows three days of massive protests against government plans for mass firings and transfers of public servants.

When Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, visited Athens in October 2012, a much smaller security cordon was imposed.

The country’s two largest union federations said they had no plans to demonstrate Thursday, but Skourletis said members of his party would join protests if any take place.

Striking municipal workers are expected to hold an afternoon rally.

At 6.30pm, two leftwing extraparliamentary groups, Antarysa and Autonomist Intervention, will hold a protest at Klafthmonos Square, near Panepistimiou metro station, against Schaeuble’s visit.

Public transport

Schaeuble’s visit will also affect public transport, with the following metro stations closed at these times:

* Syntagma 9.30am till late
* Evangelismos 9.30am till late
* Katehaki 9.30am-12.30pm and 6pm-midnight
* Megaro Mousikis 9.30am-12.30pm and 6pm-midnight

Trains will pass through these stations. In addition, the tram will not stop or depart from Syntama from 9.30am.

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