Tens of thousands join Tsipras in a pro-government Greek referendum rally
ATHENS – Tens of thousands of Greeks gathered in the heart of Athens late Friday night to express their support for the ‘no’ vote in a weekend referendum that may decide the country’s future in Europe’s single currency.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, elected in January on a promise to end six years of austerity, extolled a packed Syntagma square in central Athens to spurn the tough terms of an aid deal offered by international creditors to keep the country afloat.
His European partners say a ‘No’ vote will jeopardise Greece’s membership of the euro.
Tsipras says they are bluffing, fearing the fallout for Europe and the global economy. But a ‘Yes’ vote may bring him down, ushering in a new period of political instability for a country reeling from five days of shuttered banks and rationed cash withdrawals.
Framing Sunday’s ballot as a battle for democracy, freedom and European values, the 40-year-old left-wing leader told Greeks to “turn your backs on those who terrorise you daily”.
“Democracy is liberation, democracy is a way out. Tonight we are celebrating the victory of democracy. What ever happens on Monday, we are already winners,” he told the crowd of at least 50,000.
“On Sunday we are not just deciding that we are staying in Europe, but that we are deciding to live with dignity in Europe, to work and to thrive in Europe and to be equals in Europe,” he added.
His opponents accuse Tsipras of gambling Greece’s future with a rapid-fire plebiscite that a major European rights watchdog says falls short of international standards of fairness.
Thanassis, a Greek doctor who took part in the rally said:
“We are fighting for a future that foreigners cannot steal from us. They can’t prevent us from voting. We are voting for us, for our children. This is our message.”
Three opinion polls published on Friday had the ‘Yes’ vote marginally ahead; a fourth put the ‘No’ camp 0.5 percent in front, but all were well within the margin of error.
“The ‘yes’ will doom us. With the ‘yes’ we will have to accept whatever they throw at us,” Christos, a 30-year old Athens resident who works as a trainer in a local gym, said.
On Syntagma, patriotic songs blared out over loud speakers.
Regardless of the outcome of the referendum, Greece will need some 50 billion euros as well as a massive debt writedown, the report said.
European policy makers, however, fired fresh warnings of the costs of a ‘No’ vote in a plebiscite called at just eight days’ notice after the breakdown of talks with the European Commission, the IMF and the European Central Bank. –Reuters