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July 6, 2015

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Greeks vote to determine their ‘destiny’

GREECE voted in a tightly fought referendum yesterday that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said will determine its “destiny” in the eurozone, as the EU country teetered on the brink of financial collapse.

The referendum was officially a “Yes” or “No” vote on a bailout offer from creditors, but a “Yes” could bring down the Tsipras government, while European leaders say a “No” could force a chaotic exit from the euro.

From remote Aegean islands to the shadow of the 2,400-year-old Parthenon in Athens, Greeks despairing at years of austerity — and angry at capital controls that have closed banks and prompted a clean-out of supermarket shelves — cast their ballots.

Polls show opinion evenly divided.

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis told Germany’s Bild newspaper he would resign if Greeks vote “Yes.”

But he added: “There will not be a majority for ‘Yes’.”

Fear that a “No” result urged by the government could put Greece on the path to an exit from the eurozone — a so-called Grexit — spooked some.

“When you have to choose between two bad solutions, you choose the least bad, and that’s clearly ‘Yes’,” said Dimitris Kavouklis, 42, as he voted in the capital Athens.

But Dimitris Halatsis, a teacher, said that on such a “crucial day” he was voting “No” because “it’s the only chance the government and Greece have to apply pressure” on its international creditors.

Tsipras said he was confident of a “No” as he voted in his northern Athens neighborhood, saying that would force concessions from the creditors to give Greeks less austerity and more “dignity.”

“No one can ignore the will of the people to live, to live with determination, to take its destiny into its own hands,” he said.

Varoufakis has accused Athens’s creditors of “terrorism” for raising the spectre of Grexit. He insists no legal mechanism exists to make it drop out of what is meant to be an “irreversible” monetary union.

Even though many grumbled that the long and technical question they were voting on was impossible to understand, minds for the most part were made up.

Michelis, an 80-year-old first through the doors of a polling station in central Athens, said he was saying “No” “because they (the creditors) will take us more seriously.”

Theodora, 61, a retired journalist, said she was voting “Yes” because “it’s a ‘Yes’ to the European Union.”

In the largely middle-class Pangrati neighborhood, voter turnout was high, with even the very elderly making their way determinedly up a flight of 40 steps to reach polling booths.

Summing up the uncertainty felt by around one in 10 Greek voters, 56-year old Katerina had still not made up her mind.

“It is very confusing, it’s very hard, not at all easy to decide,” she said, admitting that she was disappointed by Tsipras’s failure to strike a deal with the country’s creditors.

Greece was declared in default on Friday by the European Financial Stability Facility, which holds 144.6 billion euros (US$160 billion) of Greek loans, days after becoming the first developed country to miss a debt payment to the International Monetary Fund.

With its credit lifeline reduced to a trickle, the government last week closed banks and capped daily ATM withdrawals at 60 euros.

The banks’ liquidity was expected to dry up entirely within days unless the European Central Bank — a major creditor — injected funds quickly.

Tsipras has called for the ECB, IMF and European Commission to forgive 30 percent of the 240 billion euros they have loaned Greece and allow it a 20-year grace period before it starts repaying the rest.


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