Date
22 July 2017
Supporters of the Greek government stage a rally in Athens on Monday. European leaders intervened in Greece's referendum campaign by framing the vote as a decision on the nation's euro area membership. Photo: Bloomberg
Supporters of the Greek government stage a rally in Athens on Monday. European leaders intervened in Greece's referendum campaign by framing the vote as a decision on the nation's euro area membership. Photo: Bloomberg

Greeks rally against austerity as EU steps up pressure

Tens of thousands of Greeks took to the streets on Monday in a show of support for their leftwing government which is resisting tough austerity measures proposed by foreign creditors under a bailout package.

With a popular referendum on the bailout planned for Sunday, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said he will respect the result of the vote but insisted that he wouldn’t want to head a government that will administer “austerity in perpetuity”, Reuters reported.

“If the Greek people want to have a humiliated prime minister, there are a lot of them out there. It won’t be me,” Tsipras was quoted as saying in an interview on Greek state television as people staged a huge rally in Athens.

Greece was forced to shut down its banking system, pushing the nation close to financial chaos, as the European Central Bank froze vital funding support to Greek banks following the collapse of bailout talks with Athens over the weekend.  

European leaders and policy makers, wrong-footed by Tsipras’ shock announcement of the referendum in the early hours of Saturday, warned that it would be a plebiscite on Greece’s future as a member of the single currency.

With Greece hours away from defaulting on a 1.6 billion euro loan from the International Monetary Fund, the crisis has escalated quickly, Reuters noted.

Ratings agency Standard and Poor’s cut Greece’s sovereign debt rating one notch further into junk levels to CCC-, saying there was a 50 percent probability it would leave the euro zone.

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told Greeks that a “No” vote would be seen as signaling an exit from the euro.

Despite the acrimony over the weekend, creditors said the door to negotiations remained open.

French President Francois Hollande appealed to Tsipras to return to the negotiating table and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was ready to restart talks with Athens after the referendum, including on how to ease its debt burden.

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