Sunday, July 5, 2015

Greek debt crisis: Polls open for referendum to decide country's financial future


Polls have opened in Greece to vote in a referendum on whether to accept tough conditions sought by international creditors to extend a lending lifeline keeping the country afloat.

Dozens of people were queuing outside schools and university buildings transformed into polling stations as doors opened at 7:00am local time.

"I'm voting 'No' because I think it's better for the country," said 80-year-old Michelis, first in through the doors of a school being used for the vote on Skoufa street in central Athens.

"If we vote 'No' they'll take us more seriously," he said, adding that he was "not voting for myself, but for my grandchildren" and their future.

Theodora, 61, a retired journalist, said she was voting "Yes" because "it's a 'Yes' to the European Union".

The country's total debt load stands at a staggering 323 billion euros ($477 billion), three-quarters of it owed to its troika of creditors.

Earlier this week, Greece became the first developed economy to fall in arrears to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) when it missed a 1.5-billion-euro loan repayment.

Last chance withdrawal Photo: A man withdraws money from an ATM in downtown Athens on the eve of the key referendum. (AFP: Andreas Solaro)

The outcome of the referendum could determine Greece's future as a member of the single currency.

Polls close at 7:00pm local time (2:00am Monday AEST) with projected results expected to be announced by 9:00pm.

Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis said he was optimistic about a deal with international creditors regardless of the outcome of the referendum. However, he said he would resign if people vote "Yes".

But he said there was too much at stake for Europe to cast Greece adrift.

"As much for Greece as for Europe, I'm sure," Mr Varoufakis told the Spanish newspaper El Mundo.

"If Greece crashes, a trillion euros [the equivalent of Spain's GDP] will be lost. It's too much money and I don't believe Europe could allow it.

"What they're doing with Greece has a name: terrorism.

"Why have they forced us to close the banks? To frighten people. And when it's about spreading terror, that is known as terrorism."

As tensions rose, he was also forced to deny a Financial Times report that suggested Greek savers could lose 30 per cent of their bank deposits to shore up the banking system, describing it as a "malicious rumour".

A slew of opinion polls on Friday gave the "Yes" camp, which favours accepting the bailout terms, a slender lead but all were within the margin of error and pollsters said the vote was too close to call.

Only one had the "No" vote advocated by the government ahead.

Addressing a crowd of over 50,000 in central Athens, left-wing prime minister Alexis Tsipras urged them to spurn the deal, rejecting warnings from Greece's European partners that this may bring an exit from the euro and even greater hardship.


Years of Greek debt
The Greek debt crisis has rumbled on for six years and could culminate in the country's exit from the Eurozone.

Greece debt timeline Photo: Greece debt timeline (Reuters)

From other news sites:

Greek debt crisis: Polls open for referendum to decide country's financial future - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)