ATHENS, Greece -- German leader Angela Merkel arrived amid draconian security measures and a mass protest in Athens Tuesday for her first visit to Greece since the eurozone crisis began there three years ago. Her five-hour stop is seen by the Greek government as a much-needed boost for the country's future in Europe - but protesters view it as a harbinger of further austerity and hardship.
A few dozen protesters broke away from the peaceful rally and threw rocks and flares at riot police, who responded with pepper spray and stun grenades, in clashes that remain relatively minor.
More than 7,000 police were on hand in Athens, cordoning off parks and other sections of city to keep demonstrators away from the German leader, who will hold talks with conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.
As a helicopter buzzed overhead, thousands of protesters, chanting "History is written by the disobedient" gathered in front of Greek parliament. One group of demonstrators burned a Swastika and threw it onto a police barrier.
"I have no doubt that (Merkel) has good intentions, and wants to help, but that won't solve Europe's problem," retired teacher Irini Kourdaki said.
Merkel will meet with Samaras and was also due to hold talks with President Karolos Papoulias before flying back out of the country.
At least 40 people were detained for questioning as police, even in unrestricted areas, stopped and searched pedestrians. Stiff security measures include a ban on public gatherings outside the German Embassy and other parts of central Athens as well as within 330 feet of her motorcade route from the airport.
The demonstrators included a group of special forces reservists, in uniform, who chanted "Merkel out of Greece" in time to their march.
"All the Greek people must rally together to rid the country of all those who oppress and humiliate us," Navy Seal reservist Giorgos Drakopoulos said.
Many of Europe's leading politicians have avoided official travel to Greece and the risk of a hostile reception, as the debt-saddled country struggled to keep up with commitments needed to guarantee rescue loan payments and long-term euro membership.