Greeks defy Europe with overwhelming referendum 'No'

Sun Jul 5, 2015 7:13pm EDT
 
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By Lefteris Papadimas and Renee Maltezou

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greeks overwhelmingly rejected conditions of a rescue package from creditors on Sunday, throwing the future of the country's euro zone membership into further doubt and deepening a standoff with lenders.

As the euro slid more than 1 percent against the dollar and European stock and bond markets were poised to take a sharp hit with the resumption of trade on Monday, stunned European leaders called a summit for Tuesday to discuss their next move.

Thousands of jubilant Greeks waving flags and bursting fire crackers poured into Athens' central square as official figures showed 61 percent of Greeks had rejected a deal that would have imposed more austerity measures on an already ravaged economy.

"You made a very brave choice," Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said in a televised address. "The mandate you gave me is not the mandate of a rupture with Europe, but a mandate to strengthen our negotiating position to seek a viable solution."

The surprisingly strong victory by the 'No' camp defied opinion polls that had predicted a tight contest after a week of rising desperation as banks shut and cash machines ran dry.

The vote leaves Greece in uncharted waters: risking a banking collapse that could force it out of the euro. Without more emergency funding from the European Central Bank, Greece's banks could run out of cash within days. That might force the government to issue another currency to pay pensions and wages.

For millions of Greeks the outcome was an angry message to creditors that Greece can no longer accept repeated rounds of austerity that, in five years, had left one in four without a job and that shrank the economy by a quarter. Tsipras has denounced the price paid for aid as "blackmail", a national "humiliation".

"The message from the 'No' is that we're not scared after all the pressure that we faced from both Europe and within," said Stathis Efthimiadis, 47-year-old teacher.   Continued...

 
"No" supporters celebrate their victory in the referendum by the parliament in Athens, Greece July 5, 2015. REUTERS/Dimitris Michalakis