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Tsipras urges ‘No’ vote on bailout referendum to ‘better arm’ Greece

AFP / Angelos Tzortzinis I Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras delivers a speech during a parliamentary session in Athens on June 28, 2015

Greece’s left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras urged Greeks Monday to reject the terms of an international aid deal in a July 5 referendum in order to give the country a stronger hand in negotiations with its international creditors.

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“Our aim is for the referendum to be followed by negotiations for which we will be better armed," he said in an interview on ERT television.

The comments came at the end of a torrid day for Greece, following the breakdown over the weekend of negotiations to secure new bailout funds from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

With the European Central Bank refusing to offer new funding for Greek lenders, the country imposed capital controls and shut its banks Monday to check the growing strains on its crippled financial system, leading to long queues outside ATMs and petrol stations as people raced to take out cash before it was too late.

Greece has until the end of Tuesday to pay back 1.6 billion euros ($1.77 billion) of IMF loans, and a default would set in train events that could lead to the country's exit from the euro currency bloc.

But Tsipras stunned European leaders in the early hours of Saturday by rejecting EU and IMF terms for more funding, saying he would put them to the people.

The creditors wanted Greece to cut further outgoings and raise taxes in ways that Tsipras has long argued would deepen one of the worst economic crises of modern times, in a country where a quarter of the workforce is already unemployed. Pensions and wages have been hammered.

The euro zone refused to extend Greece’s existing bailout until after the July 5th vote.

"If the Greek people want to proceed with austerity plans in perpetuity, which will leave us unable to lift our heads ... we will respect it, but we will not be the ones to carry it out,” Tsipras said Monday.

Thousands rally in support of ‘no’ vote

European leaders had earlier Monday pleaded with Greek voters to back the hotly disputed bailout proposals or face leaving the euro.

EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker warned Greeks they "shouldn't choose suicide just because you are afraid of death," urging them to vote "Yes" as a "No" vote would be a no to Europe.

But Tsipras denied rejecting the bailout terms would necessarily lead to Greece leaving the monetary union.

“I don’t think that their plan is to push Greece out of the euro but to end hopes that there can be different policies in Europe,” he said.

The streets of Athens on Monday were packed with at least 20,000 of Tsipras supporters, who rallied in front of parliament to call on Greeks to reject the proposed bailout package and more austerity.

Many banners declared simply “No!” Others said, “Our lives do not belong to the lenders” and “Don’t back down”.

“I left Greece two years ago because I couldn’t get a job,” said Thanos Tsapelis, 37 and newly married on Sunday to Eleni, a teacher at a Greek school in Britain. “We want austerity to end so we can return to Greece and find a job.”

A demonstration in favour of the bailout deal was due to be held on Tuesday.

"Today, those who stand tall are here. Tomorrow it will be those on all fours," demonstrator Trintafilos said, mocking people expected to gather in the capital in a rally against the government's handling of the crisis.

Though any hopes of the long-running negotiations between Greece and its creditors yielding a breakthrough now seem long-since faded, Tsipras said he stood ready to speak to European leaders to salvage the talks.

“My phone is on all day long. Whoever calls, I always pick up,” he said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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