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Greece’s Tsipras says IMF report bolsters ‘no’ vote

AFP

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Friday said an IMF report on the country’s desperate debt situation justified his government’s decision to reject an aid package from creditors in a referendum vote on Sunday.

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Tsipras once more urged citizens to vote ‘no’ to a new bailout deal that includes more spending cuts and tax hikes in a televised address to the nation on the final day of campaigning before the key ballot.

“Yesterday an event of major political importance happened,” Tsipras said. “The IMF published a report on Greece’s economy which is a great vindication for the Greek government as it confirms the obvious - that Greek debt is not sustainable."

The prime minister said a so-called “Grexit” from the European Union was not part of the referendum ballot, only the debt relief package his government has termed “blackmail” by EU lenders and the IMF.

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“Let us calmly go to the polls, and make our choice by weighing the arguments,” Tsipras said of the referendum observers say is too close to call. “No one doubts Greece’s place in Europe.”

EU leaders have warned that a “No” victory would seriously jeopardise Greece's place in the 19-nation eurozone. Tsipras has said it will strengthen his position at the negotiating table and allow him to win a better deal from creditors.

Dignity

His address came only hours after Greece was officially declared in default by the fund providing it with a financial lifeline, and as opposing “Yes” and “No” campaigns organised rallies in the capital of Athens.

‘No’ campaigners gathered on Syntagma square in front of the Greek parliament, where Tsipras urged them to spurn the harsh terms of an aid deal offered by Greece’s creditors.

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"On Sunday, we are not just deciding that we are staying in Europe, but that we are deciding to live with dignity in Europe," he told the crowd of at least 50,000.

Meanwhile, a smaller crowd of ‘Yes’ supporters gathered in front of the old Olympic Stadium to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, the anthem of the European Union.

The rival rallies laid bare the deep divide heading into a referendum that may decide the country's future in Europe's single currency.

Three opinion polls published on Friday had the 'Yes' vote marginally ahead; a fourth put the 'No' camp 0.5 percent in front, but all were well within the margin of error.

Germany rules out quick deal

Anxiety has been spreading in Greece amid government-forced bank closures and capital controls that have reduced Greeks to lining up at ATMs to make daily withdrawals capped at 60 euros ($67).

The European Financial Stability Facility, set up by the the EU to provide aid to debt-ridden member states, has refrained from immediately demanding repayment of its loans, though adding that it was reserving the right to call in €130.9 billion of debt ahead of time after Greece defaulted on a debt owed to the IMF.

In his speech on Friday, Tsipras spelt out debt restructuring demands he wants international creditors to adopt.

He called for “a 30 percent haircut off the Greek debt” and “a 20-year grace period” for the rest, to ensure “the viability of debt” in Greece, which currently stands at nearly 180 percent of its gross domestic product.

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But German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble warned that any new negotiations with Greece on its debt after the referendum would take time to produce results.

In an interview with the mass-market Bild newspaper, Schäuble said such talks would take place "on an entirely new basis and under more difficult economic conditions".

"It will take a while," he warned.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)

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