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Greece referendum: Voters stun EU with big 'no' to bailout offer

Final opinion polls released after the end of voting in Greece's referendum showed the 'No' vote leading by a small margin in Sunday's vote on a bailout proposal from creditors.

world Updated: Jul 06, 2015 08:12 IST
Greece

Anti-austerity-No-voters-celebrate-in-Greece-as-the-results-come-in-Reuters-Photo

Greeks overwhelmingly rejected creditors' demands for more austerity in return for rescue loans in a critical referendum Sunday, backing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who insisted the vote would give him a stronger hand to reach a better deal.

Tsipras gambled the future of his 5-month-old left-wing government on the vote. The opposition accused him of jeopardising the country's membership in the 19-nation club that uses the euro and said a "yes" vote was about keeping the common currency.

With nearly all the ballots counted, figures published by the interior ministry showed nearly 62% voting "No", against 38% voting "Yes".

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Anti-austerity 'No' camp supporter celebrates in Athens. (Reuters Photo)

Shortly after the results, European Council president Donald Tusk called a eurozone summit for Tuesday to discuss the Greek debt crisis. German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed the outcome with French President Francois Hollande in a telephone call.

Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis said Sunday night that creditors planned from the start to shut down banks to humiliate Greeks and force them to make a statement of contrition for showing that debt and loans are unsustainable.

He said that "'no' is a big 'yes' to democratic Europe and a no to the vision of Europe as an infinite cage for its people. It is a loud yes to the vision of the Eurozone as a common area of prosperity and social justice."

Thousands of government supporters gathered in central Athens in celebration, waving Greek flags and chanting "No, No, No."

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Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras votes at a polling station in Athens. (Reuters Photo)

The opposition accused Tsipras of jeopardsing the country's membership in the 19-nation club saying the 'yes' vote would see Greece ejected from the eurozone.

"Today, we Greeks decide on the fate of our country," conservative opposition leader Antonis Samaras said. "We vote 'yes' to Greece. We vote 'yes' to Europe."

A number of European politicians, including Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the top eurozone official, have said a "no" vote would jeopardize Greece's place in the 19-nation eurozone.

Investors are also likely to believe a "no" win increases the chance of a so-called "Grexit," where Greece returns to its own old currency.

Tsipras' left-wing Syriza party came to power in January after a six-year recession. Since then, the standoff between Athens and its international lenders has grown more bitter, and early signs of some economic growth and recovering employment in Greece have disappeared.

The debt-wracked nation also suffered repeated ratings downgrades and lost access to billions of euros after its existing bailout deal expired last week.

"We don't want austerity measures anymore, this has been happening for the last five years and it has driven so many into poverty, we simply can't take any more austerity," said Athens resident Yiannis Gkovesis, 26, holding a large Greek flag in the city's main square.

Governing left-wing Syriza party Eurodeputy Dimitris Papadimoulis said that "Greek people are proving they want to remain in Europe" as equal members "and not as a debt colony." The referendum was Greece's first in 41 years.

Minister of state Nikos Papas, speaking on Alpha television, said it would be "wrong to link a 'no' result to an exit from the eurozone. If a 'no' prevails that will help us get a better agreement."

Tsipras' high-stakes brinkmanship with lenders from the eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund resulted in Greece defaulting on its debts this week and shutting down its banks to avoid their collapse. He called the referendum last weekend, giving both sides just a week to campaign.

"Today, democracy is defeating fear ... I am very optimistic," Tsipras said earlier in the day after voting in in Athens.

European officials had openly urged Greeks to vote against the government's recommendation.

"I hope people say 'yes,'" European Parliament president Martin Schulz told German public radio. "If after the referendum, the majority is a 'no,' they will have to introduce another currency because the euro will no longer be available for a means of payment."

Belgian finance minister Johan Van Overtveldt was one of the first eurozone ministers to react to the initial results.

"This likely 'no' complicates matters," he told Belgium's VRT network, but insisted the door remained open to resume talks with the Greek government within hours.

The vote was held amid banking restrictions imposed last Monday to halt a bank run, with Greeks queuing up at ATMs across the country to withdraw a maximum 60 euros per day. Banks have been shut all week, and it is uncertain when they will reopen. Large lines once again formed at ATMs on Sunday.

Daniel Tsangaridis, a 35-year-old Athens resident, said he didn't expect banks to reopen soon, despite a government pledge that they would do so Tuesday.

"It's not going to happen in the next 48 hours," he said. "If the situation improves and we can have a deal, then the banks will open."

The Syriza party came to power in January after a six-year recession. Since then, the standoff between Athens and its international lenders has grown more bitter, and early signs of some economic growth and recovering employment in Greece have disappeared.

The debt-wracked nation also suffered repeated ratings downgrades and lost access to billions of euros after its existing bailout deal expired last week.

Opposition chief resigns

Greece's conservative opposition chief Antonis Samaras announced his resignation after the results rejected further austerity cuts.

"I understand that our great movement needs a new start. From today I am stepping down from the leadership," the New Democracy chief, a former prime minister, said in a televised address.

The New Democracy party had campaigned for a 'Yes' result in the referendum, echoing warnings from European officials that a rejection of EU-IMF reform proposals could see Greece crash out of the eurozone.

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