Wednesday 21 February 2018

Greece PM hails 'brave no vote'

Greece's prime minister Alexis Tsipras casts his vote at a polling station in Athens (AP)
Greece's prime minister Alexis Tsipras casts his vote at a polling station in Athens (AP)
A man casts his vote to decide on Greece's financial future (AP)

Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has thanked voters for making "a brave choice" in backing his call to reject creditors' demands for more austerity in return for rescue loans.

Mr Tsipras, who insisted the result would give him a stronger hand to reach a better deal, said the resounding "no" vote showed that "democracy won't be blackmailed".

With 87% of the votes counted, the "no" side had more than 60%.

"Today we celebrate the victory of democracy," said Mr Tsipras, who gambled the future of his five-month-old left-wing government on the vote, said in an address to the nation.

"I am fully conscious that the mandate you have given me is not a mandate against Europe but a mandate for finding a sustainable solution that will take us out of this vicious circle of austerity," he said.

Greek opposition leader Antonis Samaras, who had campaigned for a "yes" vote announced his resignation when t became clear the "no" vote had won.

Mr Samaras, the 64-year-old former prime minister, announcing his decision to step down in a televised address, said that "I understand that our great party needs a new start."

Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis claimed that creditors planned from the start to shut down banks to humiliate Greeks and force them to make a statement of contrition for showing that debt and loans are unsustainable.

He said the "no" vote "is a big 'yes' to democratic Europe. It's a no to the vision of Europe as an infinite cage for its people. It is a loud yes to the vision of the eurozone as a common area of prosperity and social justice".

Thousands of government supporters gathered in central Athens in celebration, waving Greek flags and chanting "No, No, No."

Governing left-wing Syriza party Eurodeputy Dimitris Papadimoulis said that "Greek people are proving they want to remain in Europe" as equal members "and not as a debt colony." The referendum was Greece's first in 41 years.

Minister of State Nikos Papas, speaking on Alpha television, said it would be "wrong to link a 'no' result to an exit from the eurozone. If a 'no' prevails that will help us get a better agreement."

Mr Tsipras' high-stakes brinkmanship with lenders from the eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund resulted in Greece defaulting on its debts this week and shutting down its banks to avoid their collapse. He called the referendum last weekend, giving both sides just a week to campaign.

"Today, democracy is defeating fear ... I am very optimistic," Mr Tsipras said earlier after voting in in Athens.

European officials had openly urged Greeks to vote against the government's recommendation. The leaders of Germany and France later called for a European Union summit Tuesday to discuss the situation.

Belgian Finance Minister Johan Van Overtveldt was one of the first eurozone ministers to react to the initial results.

"This likely 'no' complicates matters," he told Belgium's VRT network, but insisted the door remained open to resume talks with the Greek government within hours.

The vote was held amid banking restrictions imposed last Monday to halt a bank run, with Greeks queuing up at ATMs across the country to withdraw a maximum 60 euros per day. Banks have been shut all week, and it is uncertain when they will reopen. Large lines once again formed at ATMs again today.

European Council President Donald Tusk said he has called a eurozone summit for Tuesday to discuss the situation in Greece.

European Parliament president Martin Schulz says the summit of eurozone leaders should discuss an immediate "humanitarian aid programme for Greece".

Her said Athens should make "meaningful and constructive proposals" in the coming hours to get the talks with the other 18 eurozone nations going again, adding: "If not we are entering a very difficult and even dramatic time."

Mr Schulz said ordinary citizens, pensioners, sick people or very young children should not pay a price for the dramatic situation the country was in, for which he blamed the Greek government.

Press Association

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