Angry anti-austerity protestors greet Merkel in Lisbon

German chancellor’s visit sees furious protests against cutbacks, but she says results will come

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2012, 2:56am

Furious protests greeted German Chancellor Angela Merkel as she arrived in bailed-out Portugal yesterday to defend Lisbon's sweeping austerity cuts.

Anti-austerity protesters draped Lisbon's statues in black mourning sashes and a business newspaper blamed the visiting German chancellor for "Frankenstein" policies driving Portugal into poverty.

Merkel's trip coincided with a review of Lisbon's €78 billion (HK$768 billion) international bailout and came at a time of growing opposition in the euro zone to the impact of the austerity measures.

Police, deployed in large numbers, blocked off streets and held at bay demonstrators who booed Merkel, accusing her of seeking to dominate Europe by demanding austerity policies to fix state finances.

As she arrived at the Portuguese presidential headquarters, Merkel was met by protesters waving banners reading: "She wants to kill the Portuguese, she wants supremacy in Europe!"; "Portugal is not Merkel's country", "Angela Merkel assassin" and "A European Germany yes, a German Europe no".

Demonstrators released black balloons in a sign of "mourning".

On the eve of her visit, the German leader said there was no need for a renegotiation of Portugal's stringent programme, which has already been relaxed, or for a second bail-out. "I think a lot of people will voice the difficulties they face because of the austerity measures," Merkel said in an interview with Portugal's RTP television.

"Of course a programme of this kind sparks major debate but the government has shown great courage in taking these measures and I have the greatest respect for what this country is doing," she said. "People can't see the results yet, but the results will come."

Merkel met with President Anibal Cavco Silva before holding talks with Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho in an ancient fort at the mouth of the River Tagus.

At the same time, the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund began a quarterly review of Lisbon's progress in meeting the terms of its bailout.

The one-week mission will decide whether to release the next 2.5 billion euro payment from the programme, agreed in May last year. A member of the Portuguese government said "it should go well".

At its last visit, the powers behind the bailout relaxed Portugal's deficit targets in part because of damage the cutbacks had wrought on the economy, which is now in recession with record unemployment.