Greek polls show two sides close before crucial referendum
The brief but intense campaign in Greece’s critical bailout referendum ends Friday, with simultaneous rallies in Athens supporting “yes’’ and “no’’ answers to a murky question in what opinion polls suggest will be a very close vote.
Thousands began gathering for the rallies, which were being held about 800 metres (half a mile) apart. Brief clashes broke out between a group of dozens of anti-establishment protesters and police at the tail end of the “no’’ rally just as it was getting under way.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called the referendum last weekend, asking Greeks to decide whether to accept creditors’ proposals for more austerity in exchange for rescue loans — even though those proposals are no longer on the table.
No campaigning is allowed the day before an election in Greece, so Friday’s rallies would be the closing salvoes in the battle to persuade voters ahead of Sunday.
Tsipras says a “no’’ vote would put him in a stronger position to seek a better deal for Greece within the 19-nation eurozone to reduce its 320 billion-euro national debt and make payments more sustainable.
In a televised address to the nation Friday, Tsipras urged Greeks to vote “no to ultimatums, divisions and fear.’’ He emphasized that Sunday’s referendum is not a vote on whether Greece will remain in the euro, Europe’s joint currency.
But opposition parties, and many European officials, say a “no’’ vote would drive Greece out of the euro and into an even more impoverished future.
Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis told Ireland’s RTE radio Friday that an agreement with creditors “is more or less done’’ and that the only issue left is debt relief.
But the head of the eurozone finance ministers’ group, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, rejected the idea, pointing out negotiations had been broken off.
“There are no new proposals from our side and, whatever happens, the future for Greece will be extremely tough,’’ Dijsselbloem said.
“To get Greece back on track and the economy out of the slump, tough decisions will have to be taken and every politician that says that won’t be the case following a ‘no’ vote is deceiving his population.’’
Two polls published Friday show the two sides in a dead heat, with an incremental lead of the “yes’’ vote well within the margin of error.
Demonstrators shout slogans during a rally organized by supporters of the No vote in the northern Greek port city of Thessaloniki, Friday.