According to the police, 25,000 people gathered for the pro-government demonstration urging a ‘No’ vote in Sunday’s plebiscite, while 20,000 people gathered for a ‘Yes’ outcome. Each faction shouted slogans just a few hundred meters away from each other with the police force armed with riot shields, being sandwiched between the two rivals.
The referendum, called by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, will decide whether Greece will follow the latest economic proposals of international creditors. It will be a popular nation-wide vote for a YES or a NO.
On Friday, Tsipras went on television to urge voters to ignore rumours that a ‘No’ verdict could lead to Greece crashing out of the Eurozone.
In his address, Tsipras said the plebiscite was meant to “silence the sirens of destruction” by forcing creditors to finally accept his demand of another round of debt relief.
Tsipras said Greece needed to trim its suffocating 323-billion-euro debt burden by having creditors forgive 30 per cent of what they are owed and allowing a 20-year grace period for repaying the rest.
However, in Brussels, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker warned that Greece’s negotiating position, far from being strengthened, would be “dramatically weakened” in the event of a ‘No’ vote.
Even if the ‘Yes’ vote wins, there would still be “difficult” negotiations ahead, Juncker said.
After Greece defaulted on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan of 1.5-billion euros, Sunday’s referendum will decide the country’s fate. All international creditors, including the IMF is keenly waiting for the results.
However, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), Greece’s single biggest creditor, said it was not yet demanding immediate repayment of its loans worth 145 billion euros (USD 160 billion).
Many Greeks are said to be jumping to the ‘Yes’ camp because they fear an exit from the Eurozone will further aggravate the economic crisis. Greeks are already fed up of the capital control measures brought on by the government earlier this week. The ATM withdrawal limit per person has been clipped to just 60 euros (USD 67) a day.
Two polls on the referendum showed voter intentions were now effectively tied — a change from earlier published surveys that had indicated strong support for the government’s ‘No’.
Alco institute poll done on Friday found that 44.8 per cent of Greeks intend to vote ‘Yes’ and 43.4 percent stood for ‘No’.
Bloomberg’s survey for Greece’s Macedonia University was equally split, showing 43 per cent will vote for ‘No’ and 42.5 per cent for ‘Yes’.
The left-wing-led government led by Tsipras was elected last January on a promise of bringing an end to austerity measures. The new economic measures as proposed by the European creditors will amount to a rise in taxes and cut in pension. Thus Tsipras had declared that he may quit as the head of the government if the referendum goes through
(With inputs from agencies)