Greeks deeply divided heading into crucial vote

Fri Jul 3, 2015 6:08pm EDT
 
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By Michele Kambas and Lefteris Papadimas

ATHENS (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Greeks took to the streets on Friday in rival rallies that laid bare the deep divide heading into a referendum that may decide the country’s future in Europe’s single currency.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, elected in January on a promise to end years of austerity, urged people packing Syntagma square in central Athens to spurn the tough terms of an aid deal offered by international creditors to keep the country afloat.

His European partners say a 'No' vote will jeopardize Greece’s membership of the euro.

Tsipras says they are bluffing, fearing the fallout for Europe and the global economy. A 'Yes' vote may bring him down, ushering in a new period of political instability for a country reeling from five days of shuttered banks and rationed cash withdrawals.

Framing Sunday’s ballot as a battle for democracy, freedom and European values, the 40-year-old left-wing leader told Greeks to “turn your backs on those who terrorize you daily”.

“On Sunday, we are not just deciding that we are staying in Europe, but that we are deciding to live with dignity in Europe,” he told the crowd of at least 50,000.

His opponents accuse Tsipras of gambling Greece’s future on a rapid-fire plebiscite that a major European rights watchdog says falls short of international standards of fairness.

Four opinion polls published on Friday had the 'Yes' vote marginally ahead; a fifth put the 'No' camp 0.5 percent in front, but all were well within the margin of error.   Continued...

 
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras delivers a speech at an anti-austerity rally in Syntagma Square in Athens, Greece, July 3, 2015.   REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis