Germany's Schaeuble praises Greek economic progress

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble (L) and Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras speak at an event organised by the Greek-German chamber of commerce and industry in Athens on 18 July 2013 Germany's finance minister (L) championed the unpopular austerity measures in Greece

Germany's finance minister has praised Greek economic reforms just hours after parliament passed a bill cutting thousands of public sector jobs.

Wolfgang Schaeuble visited Athens on Thursday amid massive police security.

During the visit he discouraged talk of Greece receiving a second write-off on its public debt owed to eurozone governments through bailout loans.

Deeply unpopular in Greece, Mr Schaeuble is viewed as the enforcer of the country's harsh austerity measures.

"I am very impressed by what Greece has already achieved in rebalancing and modernising the economy," Mr Schaeuble said, adding that Germany would contribute to a fund to provide liquidity to Greek businesses.

His visit followed several days of protests and a general strike over the new bill of austerity measures outlining the redeployment of up to 25,000 civil servants.

The bill is tied to new bailout loans worth 6.8bn euros (£5.8bn), needed to keep the Greek government afloat.

'No shortcut'

While the German minister acknowledged that Greece had taken "big steps" to try and balance its budget, he said it was a "long and painful path" to achieve sustainable growth.

"There is no convenient shortcut. We Germans know this."

He also warned Greeks to stop lobbying for some of the bailout loans Greece owes to be written off, saying it would undermine confidence in Europe's rescue programmes.

"We have to stick to what we've achieved. Anything else is not in the best interest of Greece. Another haircut beyond the 53% for the private sector in not doable," he said.

Chris Morris in Athens: "Protesters rallied outside parliament until the last possible moment"

Greece's coalition government led by conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras agrees it has no choice but to enforce further painful adjustment.

Mr Schaeuble met with Mr Samaras and other Greek officials on his first visit to Greece since the debt crisis exploded in 2009.

During the visit, central Athens went into lockdown with protests banned and metro stations closed.

The moves followed protests of up to 5,000 outside the Greek parliament during Wednesday's vote, and a recent series of strikes against the latest cuts.

Champion of austerity

Thursday's ban on protests prohibits gatherings of more than three people holding banners or shouting slogans. It will be in force from 09:00 to 20:00 local time (06:00 to 17:00 GMT), reports said.

It was described by Greece's main left-wing opposition party, Syriza, as "fascist and undemocratic".

Correspondents say Mr Schaeuble is viewed bitterly as a champion of the austerity policies which have gripped Greece over the past four years. During that time, Greece has received two bailouts worth more than 240bn euros, but at the cost of wage cuts, tax rises and unemployment that now stands at 27%.

MPs backed the latest budget-reduction measures by 153 to 140 in the vote late on Wednesday.

Under the bill, more than 4,000 state employees, including teachers and local government workers, face dismissal this year.

PM Antonis Samaras is congratulated by MPs after the vote Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was congratulated by MPs after the vote

In addition, 25,000 will be put into a "mobility pool" by the end of the year.

The employees will have an eight-month period on 75% of their salaries in which to seek redeployment, by which point, if they are not transferred to another department, they will face redundancy.

Many Greeks believe that once in the pool, they will inevitably become jobless.

It is thought up to 11,000 could lose their jobs by the end of 2014, to comply with the demands of the so-called troika of creditors - the European Union, European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Before Wednesday's vote, protesters outside parliament expressed their outrage at the measures - the orange jackets of school caretakers mingling with the khaki uniforms of municipal police officers, who also face suspension and possible dismissal.

'Better days'

"I've been a school guard for 13 years and suddenly we find out we have no job. They say we'll be suspended. But that means we'll be fired," 47-year-old Maria Denida, who had travelled from the northern city of Thessaloniki to demonstrate, told AP.

"All of us have kids, unemployed people at home, and bills we can't pay. We were getting 780 euros a month. And if we lose that, we're finished," she said, her voice cracking with emotion.

This was the latest in a week of angry protests including demonstrations and strikes which have seen abandoned rubbish piling up in the streets.

But Prime Minister Samaras defended the measures in a surprise television statement on Wednesday.

"Better days will come for our people," he said.

"We will not let up. We will climb uphill and reach the end, which is not far."

He also announced a 10% cut in restaurant sales tax - from 23% to 13% - to boost the tourist season, but cautioned the old rate could be restored if Greece's notoriously high levels of tax evasion persisted.

The trouble is that despite all the measures that have been taken, Greece's debt is still regarded as unsustainably high, the BBC's Chris Morris in Athens reports.

He says that sooner or later, a new debate will have to begin, about writing off another chunk of the debt. And that could mean that other countries in the eurozone - who have lent huge amounts to Greece - will not get all their money back.

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