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Greeks Decide The Fate Of Their Economy In Crucial Referendum

Sun, July 5, 2015 5:37am

Story by Scott Neuman

German Finance Minister Wolfang Schaeuble is depicted on a pro No poster (left) next to a graffiti (right) that read "No" (Nein) in German but also sounds like "Yes" in Greek. The photo was taken in Athens, on Sunday.

As deeply divided Greeks go to the polls in a referendum that could determine whether the European Central Bank extends a crucial line of credit and the country remains in the euro zone, Finance Minister Yianis Varoufakis has vowed to resign if they vote "yes" to bailout terms that the government opposes.

The referendum is on whether the country should accept a deal – including harsh austerity measures — that has technically been removed from the table by international lenders. German-led negotiations presented the latest bailout agreement as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition that expired when Athens missed a crucial payment last Tuesday on an International Monetary Fund loan.

The left-wing government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is pushing for debt forgiveness, not an unpopular austerity, which his party ran against in a campaign that brought him to power in January.

Joanna Kakissis, reporting from Athens for NPR, says that the referendum is confusing Greeks because it is about a credit deal that no longer exists. A "yes" vote, however, is likely to be read as support for keeping the euro and continuing talks on the basis of the earlier deal. However, a "no" vote in support of the government could spell further chaos and uncertainty even if creditors are willing to reopen talks.

As Reuters writes, the referendum is being "[held] against a backdrop of default, shuttered banks and threats of financial apocalypse. ... [it is] too close to call and looked certain to herald yet more turbulence whichever way it went."

Opinion polls in the run-up to the vote have indicated the outcome in the referendum is likely to be very close – with younger Greeks, who have the highest rate of unemployment – more likely to vote no than the country's older citizens.

"I voted 'No' to the 'Yes' that our European partners insist I choose," Eleni Deligainni, 43, in Athens, told Reuters. "I have been jobless for nearly four years and was telling myself to be patient ... but we've had enough deprivation and unemployment."

But retired school teacher Themis Hatziyannaki, 84, tells The Associated Press that she wants to continue enjoying the privileges of her Greek and European citizenship. Even so, she's not surprised that younger Greeks are voting against the referendum in larger numbers.

"I understand them, because when I was young I was a rebel," she tells the AP.

Meanwhile, Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier says Greece will remain in the 28-nation European Union even if it gives it rejects the bailout, but he warned that a "Grexit" from the common euro currency used by 19 of those countries was more likely and would damage Europe's credibility in the world.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.