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Merkel urges Greeks to stick to 'tough path' and praises progress

ATHENS -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday said that a “tough path” of austerity was the best way for Greece to overcome its economic crisis as thousands of protesters demonstrated a few blocks away.

Merkel, the leader of Europe's largest economy — and chief crisis paymaster — also praised the course of Greek reforms and repeated her aim to keep Greece in the eurozone, a badly-needed message of support to the country's embattled government.

“I am deeply convinced that this tough path is worth it and Germany wants to be a good partner,” she said on her first visit to Greece in five years.

“A lot has been achieved. There is still a lot to do and Germany and Greece will work very closely together.”

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, a fellow conservative, responded: “Greece is determined to keep its promises and overcome the crisis ... the Greek people are bleeding right now, but they are determined to win the battle of competitiveness.”

Samaras, who heads a three-party coalition, plans to push through parliament later this month a new package of austerity measures worth 13.5 billion euros (US$17.5 billion) over two years.

Greece has been told to implement the cuts by its international creditors — the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank — to unblock a loan installment of 31.5 billion euros that has been pending since June.

“These problems cannot be solved with one wave of a magic wand or one measure ... it will be a long way but I believe that we will see light at the end of the tunnel,” Merkel said.

Samaras and his allies want the creditors to approve a two-year extension to implement the austerity measures, hoping that the Greek economy will have begun to bounce back by this stage.

Merkel repeated on Tuesday that no decisions can be taken on these issues before auditors from the troika of creditors deliver a report on the state of Greece's reforms later this month.

“We were agreed that, in conjunction with austerity measures and structural reforms, which demand a great deal from the people, there must also be growth stimulus,” she told reporters after her talks with Samaras.

“Therefore, we will support everything possible to provide Greece access to credit from the European Investment Bank,” Merkel said.

An EU summit on Oct. 18 is expected to discuss Greece's case, and the government is aiming to have finalised the package of cuts by then.

Greece hopes to receive the money by the end of November at the latest, a finance ministry source said on Tuesday.

The government needs the money to recapitalise banks hit by a write-down of privately held Greek debt and repay outstanding domestic debts that amount to almost eight billion euros.

On Tuesday, the Greek public debt management agency raised 1.3 billion euros (US$1.7 billion) in an auction of six-month treasury bills.

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Two men dressed as German World War II soldiers with Nazi swastika armbands sit in the back of an open vehicle, in front of a banner reading “Merkel out, undesirable” during a protest in Athens on Tuesday, Oct. 9 as German Chancellor Angela Merkel makes her first visit to Greece since the eurozone crisis began here three years ago. (AP)

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