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Greeks return to polls that could decide fate of euro

world Updated: Jun 18, 2012 01:57 IST

Greeks angered by austerity take to the polls on Sunday for an election that could decide their future in the euro amid unprecedented external pressure not to vote for a radical leftist firebrand.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was “extremely important” for Greeks to elect lawmakers who would respect the terms of a controversial bailout deal, which Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras has promised will be “history” on Monday.

Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker also warned on the eve of the vote that choosing Syriza could have "unpredictable" consequences for the eurozone as international markets watched the momentous vote with bated breath.

Polls open at 0400 GMT and close at 1600 GMT, with exit polls also due out then and the first indicative results expected at around 1900 GMT in the second election in six weeks after a vote on May 6 failed to produce a government.

Germany's Bild newspaper added to tensions ahead of the vote with an open letter telling Greeks their ATMs only had euros because "we put them there.”

“If the parties who want to be through with austerity and reforms win the election and contravene every agreement, we will stop paying,” it said.

Tsipras, a 37-year-old former student activist from a working-class Athens district, is running neck-and-neck in the polls with Harvard-educated Antonis Samaras, the 61-year-old head of the conservative New Democracy party.

‘Conservatives, leftists almost tied’

The election, which has captured the eyes of the world, is too close to call with the conservative New Democracy party barely ahead of radical leftist Syriza in a vote that could decide whether the country stays in the euro zone.

A joint exit poll by five pollsters, published as voting closed on Sunday, showed New Democracy taking between 27.5% and 30.5% of the vote. Syriza was essentially level with 27-30%, followed by the PASOK Socialists taking 10-12% of the vote.

Syriza has vowed to tear up the terms of an EU/IMF bailout package keeping Greece from bankruptcy, potentially sending the country crashing out of Europe’s single currency. New Democracy backs the bailout, as does PASOK. The party that comes in first secures a dividend of 50 seatswhich will be crucial to its chances of forming a new government.