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Saturday 10 December 2016

We are being blackmailed, claims Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is seen on a television monitor while addressing the nation in Athens, Greece July 1, 2015
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is seen on a television monitor while addressing the nation in Athens, Greece July 1, 2015

A defiant prime minister Alexis Tsipras urged Greeks yesterday to reject an international bailout deal, wrecking any prospect of repairing broken relations with EU partners before a referendum on Sunday that may decide Greece’s future in Europe.

Less than 24 hours after he wrote a conciliatory letter to creditors asking for a new bailout that would accept many of their terms, Tsipras abruptly switched back into combative mode in a television address.

Greece was being “blackmailed”, he said, quashing talk that he might delay the vote, call it off or urge Greeks to vote ‘Yes’.

The remarks added to the frantic and at times surreal atmosphere of recent days in which acrimonious messages from the leftist government have alternated with late-night offers of concessions to restart negotiations.

A day after Greece became the first advanced economy to default on debt to the IMF, long lines at cash machines provided a stark visual symbol of the pressure on Tsipras, who came to power in January vowing to end austerity and protect the poor.

Warnings

“A ‘No’ vote is a decisive step towards a better agreement that we aim to sign right after Sunday’s result,” he said, rejecting repeated warnings from European partners that the referendum would effectively be a vote on whether Greece stays in the euro or returns to the drachma.

European Council President Donald Tusk retorted in a tweet: “Europe wants to help Greece. But cannot help anyone against their own will. Let’s wait for the results of the Greek

referendum.”

Eurozone finance ministers held an hour-long conference call to discuss the previous night’s offer from Tsipras, but were adamant that no further discussions would be held until after the Sunday vote.

The head of the currency zone ministers’ Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, said he saw “little chance” of progress after Tsipras’s latest comments.

In his overnight letter to creditors, Tsipras agreed to accept most of their demands for taxes and pension cuts and asked for a new €29bn loan to cover all debt service payments in the next two years.

Sketchy

Tsipras has suggested he would step aside if Greeks vote ‘Yes’ in Sunday’s referendum, and many other eurozone countries have made little secret that they see no point in negotiating with him before then.

The Tsipras letter, asking for a new bailout deal, appeared to move closer to accepting creditor demands. But it contained only a single sketchy reference to labour market reform and no mention at all of frozen

privatisations, both big priorities for the creditors.

The lack of panic on financial markets yesterday stood in marked contrast to 2011, when the Greek crisis was perceived as a threat to the future of the single currency and investors bid up the borrowing costs for other countries seen as in danger, like Spain and Italy.

Most eurozone leaders now believe any damage to the currency zone from Greek turmoil can be contained.

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