Referendum rivals in Athens clash

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Published: Friday 3rd July 2015 by The News Editor

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Rival campaigns in Greece’s bailout referendum are ending with rallies planned in Athens for Yes and No supporters just yards apart.

The events will happen in the city centre to accommodate a five-day campaign on one of the most important votes in Greece’s modern history that still has many confused about about what is at stake.

Costas Christoforidis, a 37-year-old farmer, has not decided how to vote on Sunday.

“If it’s saying No to austerity, then it’s a No from me too. But if we are rejecting Europe, I disagree with that,” he said.

As Greek banks and markets remain closed for a fifth day, rival campaigns have scrambled to roll out their messages. And a prediction from the International Monetary Fund that Greece will need piles of additional cash from eurozone countries and others over the next three years put even more pressure on the government.

“Our efforts are focused on overcoming the crisis as fast as possible – with a solution that preserves the dignity and sovereignty of our people,” prime minister Alexis Tsipras said.

The popular 40-year-old leader is gambling his government on a call to voters to reject austerity measures demanded by bailout lenders, despite coming close to a deal last week.

A strong No vote, he argued, would help Greece win a new deal with the eurozone’s rescue mechanism that would include terms to make the country’s 320 billion euro (£227bn) national debt sustainable.

After the vote, he insisted, a deal could be struck “within 48 hours”.

Opponents do not believe him and say he is risking the country’s future – asking voters to weigh in on a bailout offer that expired at midnight on Tuesday.

“They are making a serious mistake. Because the world will consider a No vote to be a withdrawal from the heart of Europe, the first step towards euro exit,” former conservative prime minister Costas Karamanlis said, making his first public speech in six years to endorse the Yes campaign.

Mr Tsipras’ argument was also dismissed by the head of the eurozone finance ministers’ group, Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem.

“That suggestion is simply wrong,” Mr Dijsselbloem said in the Netherlands.

European officials and the Greek opposition have warned a No outcome on Sunday could be tantamount to a decision to leave the euro.

“The consequences are not the same if it’s a Yes or No,” French president Francois Hollande said.

“If it’s the Yes, even if it’s on the basis of proposals that have already expired, negotiations can resume and I imagine be quickly concluded. We are in something of an unknown. It’s up to the Greeks to respond.”

And in one of the clearest signs yet that the future of the government is on the line in Sunday’s vote, the country’s outspoken finance minister Yanis Varoufakis told Australia’s ABC radio he was likely to resign if a Yes vote prevailed.

Mr Tsipras signalled the same earlier this week, declaring on state TV that he was not an “all-weather” prime minister – a strong indication he would step down if his proposal was defeated.

Tension surrounding the vote has remained high since banks closed this week and were forced to impose strict cash withdrawal limits.

Elderly Greeks, some struggling with walking sticks or being held up by others, have been forming large crowds outside the few banks opened to help pensioners without ATM cards get access to money.

Elsewhere in Athens, campaigners battled for visibility as time to reach voters was running out. Yes posters appeared for the first time around the city, while TV ads only went out a day earlier. The main rival rallies will take place in Athens at 7.30pm (5.30pm BST).

Around 6,000 Greek Communist Party supporters attended a rally outside parliament last night, urging voters to cast invalid ballots in protest at Greece’s continued membership of the European Union.

The country has been thrown into financial limbo after missing a massive IMF repayment this week when its bailout programme expired.

Raising the stakes further for Sunday’s vote, an IMF report warned that to avoid financial collapse Greece would need additional debt relief costing 50 billion euros (£35.5bn) and lasting through 2018 – a bleak prospect for a country that has already endured six years of recession.

Ashkoda Mody, a visiting professor in international economic policy at Princeton University, argued the IMF’s call for debt relief should have been made far earlier, before the talks collapsed.

“If the IMF and other creditors had this document while they were negotiating with the Greeks, it is completely unconscionable that they did not discuss deep debt relief,” he said.

Polling data on Sunday’s vote has been scarce during the week-long campaign, with one research company saying a survey showing a narrow lead for the Yes vote was based on an unauthorised leak of partial data it had gathered.

One source of confusion is the actual question being posed to voters – 17 lines of bureaucratic language that ends with the No option placed above the Yes.

Eleni Maili, 64, said: “I can’t vote Yes or No. Both have their pitfalls. And in the end, the lenders will just interpret the result in a way that suits them.”

But she did have one question of her own. “I do wonder about all that money we got over all those years,” she said. “Where is that money? Because the people didn’t see any of it.”

Published: Friday 3rd July 2015 by The News Editor

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