Defiant Greek PM stands ground on referendum

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras vowed today to push ahead with a controversial bailout referendum despite pressure from European leaders, and urged creditors to accept a fresh reform offer by Athens.

Hours after Greece became the first advanced economy to default on the IMF, the leftist leader used a televised address to tell Greeks to vote ‘No’ on Sunday to creditor austerity demands.

European ministers were due later Wednesday to consider a new proposal from Athens but German Chancellor Angela Merkel has already insisted there can be no new deal before the referendum.

“A ‘No’ vote does not signify a rupture with Europe, but a return to the Europe of values,” Tsipras told the nation, rebutting accusations from EU leaders that the plebiscite was essentially a vote on whether to stay in the union.

“Come Monday, the Greek government will be at the negotiating table after the referendum, with better terms for the Greek people,” he added, standing between Greek and EU flags.

The radical Greek leader spoke hours after Merkel effectively ruled out all negotiations until after Sunday, saying that Europe could “calmly” await the outcome of the referendum.

“The world is watching us. But the future of Europe is not at stake,” Merkel told Germany’s Bundestag lower house of parliament.

But there were signs the crisis was opening rifts in Europe’s united front, with France’s leader Francois Hollande urging an “immediate agreement” after six months of stalemate with the radical-leftists in Athens.

A poll today showed the ‘No’ camp in the lead with 46 percent, against 37 percent for ‘Yes’ and 17 percent undecided. However the ‘No’ vote share was down compared to before capital controls were introduced Sunday.

The Council of Europe rights group meanwhile said the vote fell short of European standards.

Greece entered uncharted waters with its default on a 1.5 billion euro (USD 1.7 billion) International Monetary Fund loan, the first by an advanced economy, and expiry of its current European bailout at 2200 GMT yesterday.

It is now without external financial assistance for the first time in five years, while at home the banks will be closed all week, although around a thousand branches opened Wednesday to allow the elderly to receive pension payments.

Greece yesterday made a last-minute proposal for a third bailout worth nearly 30 billion euros to follow the two rescue programmes worth 240 billion euros that cash-strapped Athens has received since 2010.