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Friday 2 December 2016

Joyful Greeks take step into unknown as they reject bailout

Anti-austerity 'No' voters kiss as they celebrate the results of the first exit polls in front of the Greek parliament in Syntagma Square in Athens,
Anti-austerity 'No' voters kiss as they celebrate the results of the first exit polls in front of the Greek parliament in Syntagma Square in Athens,
ATHENS, GREECE - JULY 05: People celebrate in front of the Greek parliament as early opinion polls predict a win for the Oxi, or No, campaign in the Greek austerity referendum.

THERE were jubilant scenes on the streets of the Greek capital last night as the resounding 'No' vote in the bail-out referendum sent shock waves through Europe.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza party celebrated, but it was anyone's guess if the country's banks will reopen in the coming days.

The overwhelming vote of 'Oxi' - 'No' in Greek - was a rejection of demands for more austerity in return for further rescue loans from Greece's creditors.

A senior Syriza member last night told the Herald that the outcome of the referendum was "an enormous victory".

READ MORE: Ireland should seek debt write-down when Greek crisis ends, says ex-IMF official

"We have secured a 'No' vote with the banks closed since Monday and a lot of instability. We have been under siege and the reaction has been hysterical. There has been a climate of fear and hysteria," central committee member Strathis Kouvelakis said.

He said the government was now focusing on a return to negotiations in Europe, but "the Greek people have made it absolutely clear they will not accept this deal".

READ MORE: Irish resistance to austerity growing, says left-wing

Mr Kouvelakis said it would now be up to the ECB as to whether Greek banks would re-open. He added that this would "show how serious Europe is about proper negotiation".

It was a tense week with queues at ATMs and a €60 daily withdrawal limit per person.

However, sources in the country insist that the banks will not open in the foreseeable future and ATMs will begin running out of money by the middle of this week.

That didn't stop delighted citizens of Athens filling the city's Syntagma Square last night after the referendum's result became clear.

At one point last night, with 70pc of the votes counted, the 'No' side had more than 60pc. The interior ministry predicted that margin would hold.

Waving Greek and Syriza party flags, those gathered chanted songs and beat drums as they celebrated.

"We will now show Europe that we cannot be humiliated," said student Janis (24).

Police vans with officers in full riot gear were around the square. But those gathered insisted there would be no conflict. Sisters Denise (30) and Catherine Papadopoulou (23) spoke of their delight at the win.

"This is the first time I can smile in weeks. Things have been very bad, but now we will see a change. This is a celebration for all of Greece," said Denise.

The sisters said all 'No' voters accepted the banks may not open for some time, but insisted that together the country would find a way through.

Unity was the chief concern for many in the crowd after weeks and months of turmoil.

Greece remains bitterly divided, with the contentious vote turning friend against friend, neighbour against neighbour.

Iro Syngarefs (64) said the issue had torn her own family apart. "My daughters' husbands - one is 'Yes' and one is 'No'. They nearly tore each other apart. We are fighting among ourselves, it is like a civil war," she said.

"I voted 'No', but as I came down the stairs I wasn't sure anymore. I now worry about my children - will they have a job anymore. But either way it will be difficult. Maybe for my granddaughter's time things will be better," she said.

Splitting

Outside the polling station Michael Pantazopoulos, (55) a naval architect, accused Tsipras and his party of splitting the nation in two.

Moustakoufis Stelios, a 50-year-old retired teacher, disagreed. "No, it is not Tsipras - it is our beliefs that split us."

Mr Pantazopoulos said: "The EU is not responsible for this. This is our own problem and if we don't solve it it will be a catastrophe."

'No' voters last night quoted poet Odysseus Elytis, whose famous poem had adorned a number of polling station.

"If you take Greece apart, in the end you will be left with an olive tree, a vineyard and a boat... which means that with these items you can rebuild Greece," the verse reads.

"We can rebuild Greece and we can do this as a people together," said one man Nicolaos (35).

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