Anxiety over Greece’s future swelled yesterday, with people lining up outside banks to withdraw cash after Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ call to have Greeks vote on a proposed bailout deal increased the risks that the country might fall out of the eurozone.
The call for a vote radically raises the stakes in a standoff between Greece and its creditors over the terms for more financial support to the country. Greece’s bailout program expires on Tuesday, after which it is unclear whether its banks would be able to avoid collapse.
The Greek parliament was scheduled to debate and vote at midnight yesterday on the government’s request for a referendum, as the finance ministers from the 19 eurozone countries, Greece’s main creditors, gathered to discuss the situation in Brussels.
About 50 people, most of whom were visibly anxious, were waiting early in the morning outside a Piraeus Bank branch in central Athens, one of few that opens on Saturdays, before they found out it would not be opening after all.
Across Athens, people started flocking to automated teller machines (ATM) shortly after Tsipras announced the referendum, just after 1am. The length of lines at ATMs, and the availability of cash, varied widely.
The Bank of Greece yesterday afternoon said in a statement that the flow of cash to ATMs would not be interrupted.
According to parliament documents, the referendum would ask Greeks to vote on a proposal of reforms that the country’s creditors made on Thursday. The Greek government rejected it as imposing cuts that are too harsh on the general population.
The Greek government said it would recommend Greeks vote “no” in the referendum. What would happen in that case — whether Greece would have to leave the eurozone or try to renegotiate more time with creditors — was unclear.
Former Greek prime minister Costas Karamanlis broke his long-standing silence and criticized the government’s “foolish choice.”
“The nation’s most vital interests demand that the country remains at the heart of Europe. The EU’s actual shortcomings do not, in any way, negate this,” Karamanlis said.
“Foolish choices that undermine this principle push the country to adventures, with unpredictable and possibly irreversible consequences,” he added.
Greek Minister of Productive Reconstruction, Environment and Energy Panagiotis Lafazanis, a senior SYRIZA official, came out strongly against approving the creditors’ proposal.
“A ‘no’ will provide a big respite for Greece and the Greek people,” he told reporters as he arrived at the parliament. “It will be a big yes to a new era of reconstruction and progress.”
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