Rivals take to streets as Greek poll on knife edge

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The brief but intense campaign in Greece’s critical bailout referendum came towards its close with simultaneous rallies in Athens supporting Yes and No answers to a murky question in what an opinion poll suggests could be a very close vote.

Prime minister Alexis Tsipras called the referendum last weekend, asking Greeks to decide whether to accept creditors’ proposals for more austerity in exchange for more loans – even though those proposals are no longer on the table.

He 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 (£227bn) national debt and make payments more sustainable.

In a televised address to the nation, Mr Tsipras urged Greeks to vote “No to ultimatums, divisions and fear”. He emphasised that tomorrow’s referendum is not a vote on whether Greece will remain in the euro.

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.

Finance minister Yanis Varoufakis told Ireland’s RTE radio that an agreement with the country’s 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 those comments, saying negotiations are not still going on.

“There are no new proposals from our side and, whatever happens, the future for Greece will be extremely tough,” Mr 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 who says that won’t be the case following a No vote is deceiving his population.”

A poll conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday and published in To Ethnos newspaper yesterday showed the two sides in a dead heat. It also showed an overwhelming majority – 74 per cent – want the country to remain in the euro, compared with 15 per cent who want a national currency.

Of the 1,000 respondents to the nationwide survey by the ALCO polling firm, 41.5 per cent will vote Yes and 40.2 per cent No, well within the margin of error of 3.1 points. Another 10.9 per cent were undecided and the rest said they would abstain or leave their ballots blank.

Both sides were trying to sway the undecided in rallies this evening, to be held 900 yards apart in central Athens. Mr Tsipras is to speak at the No rally in the capital’s main Syntagma Square outside Parliament, while Yes supporters will gather at the nearby Panathenian Stadium, where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896.

The vote could be the most important in Greece’s modern history, but the question is unclear and many voters are confused about what is at stake.

The Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, is to rule on a motion brought by two private citizens asking the court to rule the referendum 
illegal “because it expressly violates the constitution, which stipulates that a referendum 
cannot take place on economic matters”.

Many Greeks living in the UK will return to the troubled country this weekend to vote, the Greek Embassy said.

A spokesman for the Greek Embassy in London said: “Many people will make the effort to go back if they can because it’s a pivotal moment in our recent history.”