Greece on a knife-edge as voters head for polls

Greece’s referendum result is balanced on a knife edge today as the country decides whether to accept the terms of an international bailout.

The Greek government called for a crucial referendum called on June 29 after negotiations with creditors broke down over a failure to agree on key points of the economic assistance by institutions composed of the European Central Bank, European Commission and the IMF.

But with opinion polls suggesting there is less than 1 per cent between the Yes and No camps, the referendum could not be closer.

The country’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, in office since late January this year, was voted into power on the back of a wave of anti-austerity sentiment by the citizens of a country exhausted after five years of economic hardship. His surprise move to call a referendum caused shock within Greece and beyond.

What was billed by the young premier as a choice for Greece between yes or no to more austerity was quickly interpreted as a choice for Greece to stay in or leave the euro zone and single currency by the country’s European counterparts.

He and his finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, have spent the week on the airwaves urging their nation to vote No, further worsening the climate between Greece and the rest of Europe.

As the nation weighed up the difficult choice, opinions were deeply divided. Poll results put the difference between the Yes and No camps at less than 1 per cent. Greek media has been reporting that turnout has so far been lower than that for the general elections in January. As of 3.30pm Athens time, the turnout was reported to be at about 35 per cent.

After casting his vote, Mr Tsipras said: “Today is a day of celebration. I am confident that tomorrow we will set a new course of all the peoples of Europe.”

The president of Greece, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, said: “This day belongs to the citizen alone. Regardless of the outcome, we have an obligation to tread the difficult path of tomorrow with absolute unity.”

In central Athens, Eleni Matozouri, 56, a mother of two, said: “I spoilt my ballot paper. I am against all of this, which is domineering our lives.”

Despite fears that the nation was now deeply divided along class, employment and generational lines, the mood on the streets of Athens was calm.

In Pallio Faliro, a middle class suburb of Athens, Yes and No supporters sat side by side and debated the pros and cons of both options. The deputy mayor of the district, Nikolas Giakovlef said: “I will vote Yes but it’s already too late – it’s like being three metres from the iceberg and trying to decide do you turn left or right? You are going to hit the iceberg.”

In the port of Piraeus, which neighbours Athens, opinion was strongly in favour of a No vote. The district’s biomechanical industry, already depressed before the crisis, was obliterated by the economic upheaval that hit the country the financial crisis of 2008.

An elderly lady loudly shouted ‘No’ as she entered the polling station. “No to Europe, no to oppression, no to all of it,” she said. However into the afternoon, the atmosphere remained one of calm contemplation with no incident reported.

Mr Tsipras has hinted that he will resign if a Yes vote comes out on top, with his finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, saying in an interview that he would rather cut off his arm than accept a bad deal for Greece. Mr Varoufakis said he would resign as finance minister if the Yes voters prevailed. The first exit polls are expected about 7pm local time (about 8pm in Abu Dhabi).

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