Athens : Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras got a rock-star welcome at an Athens rally as he sought to revive support for a “No” vote in a referendum called to strengthen his hand in talks with international creditors.
His typically charismatic turn on the stage came as the latest polls suggested Sunday’s plebiscite on Greece’s latest bailout offer was too close to call, with the EU nation of 11 million people evenly divided. Countering EU leaders’ warnings that a “No” could cause Greece to crash out of the eurozone, Tsipras told the crowd of 25,000 cheering supporters: “We are not simply deciding to remain in Europe — we are deciding to live with dignity in Europe.
“I call on you to say ‘No’ to ultimatums and to turn your back on those who would terrorise you,” the 40-year-old leader said. “No one can ignore this passion and optimism.” Just 800 metres away, separated by police with riot shields, a rival rally of 20,000 “Yes” supporters shouted pro-European slogans and voiced fears of a so-called “Grexit” from the eurozone if Tsipras got his way.
“They cannot pretend any longer that it’s not about leaving the euro,” said a 43-year-old doctor who gave his first name as Nikos. “And outside the euro lies only misery.”
“It cannot go on like this. Our government is a liability,” said George Koptopoulos, a 70-year-old retired university professor.
Many Greeks have jumped into the “Yes” camp since capital controls were imposed this week limiting daily ATM withdrawals to just 60 euros (USD 67) after Greece’s international aid package ran out on Tuesday.
Adding to the sense of crisis, a eurozone emergency fund officially declared Greece to be in default yesterday for not making a 1.5-billion payment to the International Monetary Fund loan this week.
Greece’s single biggest creditor, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) said, however, it was not yet demanding immediate repayment of loans worth 145 billion euros.
The two latest voter intention polls showed growing support for a “Yes” compared to previous surveys. An Alco institute poll Friday found 44.8 per cent of Greeks intend to vote “Yes” and 43.4 per cent are for “No”, while a Bloomberg survey for Greece’s Macedonia University showed 43 per cent would vote “No” and 42.5 per cent “Yes”.
Greece’s top administrative court ruled late yesterday the referendum could go ahead after rejecting a challenge by two citizens who argued its question was confusing and unconstitutional.
Tsipras says the referendum is needed to force creditors to finally accept his key demand of another round of debt relief to save Greece from financial meltdown and possibly crashing out of the euro.