Greek polls show two sides close be­fore cru­cial ref­er­en­dum

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OBITUARIES/WORLD - BY ELENA BE­CA­TOROS THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

AP PHOTO

De­mon­stra­tors shout slo­gans dur­ing a rally or­ga­nized by sup­port­ers of the No vote in the north­ern Greek port city of Thes­sa­loniki, Fri­day.

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