ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Germany's Finance Minister arrived for a short visit to Greece Thursday amid massive police security, insisting there was "no convenient shortcut" for the country's bailout program.
The 70-year-old Wolfgang Schaeuble is widely seen in Greece as an enforcer of the country's harsh austerity measures and has been often singled out for criticism by protesters.
Schaeuble, on his first visit to Greece since its financial crisis broke out in 2009, said the country had made impressive progress in efforts to balance its budget. But he added that the debt-strapped country had little choice other than to press ahead with painful reforms.
"There is no way around structural and fiscal reforms ... There is no convenient shortcut," Schaeuble said.
More than 4,000 police officers were on duty Thursday for his one-day visit, which occurred a day after Parliament narrowly agreed to thousands of public-sector job cuts.
Demonstrations have been banned throughout Athens during the trip. The German minister is due to meet conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and other senior Greek officials.
Police placed parliament and the city's main Syntagma Square off limits to protesters, in security measures that were more extensive than those reserved for heads of government. Busy downtown subway stations were also closed for the day, while traffic restrictions were imposed along the route from Athens International Airport into the capital.
Tough austerity measures have helped keep Greece in the euro but have seen an alarming rise in poverty and unemployment since the country was first bailed out in 2010 by other euro countries and the International Monetary Fund.
Left-wing opposition leader Alexis Tsipras accused Samaras of trying to help his fellow conservatives in Germany ahead of the federal election there 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 Wednesday.
"He is coming here to support his catastrophic policies."
Parliament late Wednesday narrowly approved new austerity measures demanded by rescue creditors which will mean mass firings and transfers of workers in Greece's bloated public sector — a measure that has triggered a new round of large protests.
Greece's two largest unions are not planning demonstrations Thursday but striking municipal workers are expected to hold an afternoon rally.
Tsipras' left-wing Syriza party described the police measures as "fascist and undemocratic" and said its members would join demonstrations if they take place.