July 06, 2015 08:05
Greek voters have overwhelmingly rejected a demand by the country's lenders to impose more austerity measures on them in exchange for new bailout loans for the government in Athens.
With 87 percent of the votes counted from Sunday's referendum, more than 60 percent of voters have rebuffed warnings from European leaders that ignoring their calls for more austerity could force the country from the 19-nation euro currency bloc.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who had urged a "no" vote said after the vote, "Today we celebrate the victory of democracy." Tsipras said Athens is ready to return to the negotiation table, and that the public mandate will give him a stronger hand to reach a better deal with Greece's creditors.
The opposition accused Tsipras of jeopardizing the country's membership in the 19-nation club that uses the euro. Greek opposition leader Antonis Samaras announced his resignation, after his New Democracy party had urged a 'yes' vote in the referendum.
Whether the creditors will be willing to pull back on their austerity demands and approve more bailout money for Greece is far from certain. As Athens defaulted on a $1.8 billion loan payment due the IMF last week, European leaders said a negative vote would signal that Greece wants to leave the eurozone and divorce itself politically from Europe.
Thousands of Greeks gathered in Athens' main square Sunday night to cheer the apparent outcome of the referendum, with many chanting "No, no!"
Nearly 10 million people were registered to vote in the referendum and officials said more than half that number may actually have voted.
Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, who says he would resign from the government Monday if his countrymen voted in favor of accepting the austerity demands, called the vote "a holy moment."
"The massive failures of the eurogroup were leading to ultimatums for which the Greek people had no say," Varoufakis said after voting. "Today, after five years of failure, the Greek people have the opportunity to decide on the last ultimatum of the eurogroup, the institutions and our partners. This is about a holy moment. A moment of hope for the whole of Europe -- a moment that gives hope to Europe that the common currency and democracy can co-exist, and they co-exist."
A woman voter said she was undecided until the last minute. She has two small children and is anxious for the future. "Though I am determined to make even more sacrifices for Greece to get over the crisis and have a better quality of life," she says.
But the "No" campaign says Brussels' warnings of a Greek exit are just a bluff.
Iasonas Liberis, an observer for the "No" campaign, said there are rules in the EU, and the EU is not the property of the technocrats. The democratic will of the people of Europe must be accepted.
Finance Minister Varoufakis even accused the EU of "terrorism" by trying to scare the Greeks into voting their way.
But those in the "yes" camp said Greece has no choice but a European future. Being forced out of the eurozone means Greece would have to go back to using the old currency, the drachma -- money that some outside Greece could refuse to accept.
The week leading up to Sunday's referendum has been a miserable one for most Greeks.
Banks put strict limits on withdrawals to avoid running out of funds, although ATMs ran out of cash several times. Supermarkets are fast running out of basic foods. Storekeepers are reluctant to restock shelves because of the uncertainty of how they would be able to pay for the supplies.
The Europeans accuse Athens of refusing to make any more economic reforms while the Greeks say they have sacrificed enough and feel enslaved to their creditors.
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