World Economy

Greece Calls for Referendum on Austerity Demands

Greece Calls for Referendum on Austerity Demands Greece Calls for Referendum on Austerity Demands

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called a referendum on austerity demands from foreign creditors on Saturday, rejecting an "ultimatum" from lenders and putting a deal that could determine Greece's future in Europe to a popular vote.

The surprise call marked the most dramatic twist yet in five-month negotiations between Greece and its lenders, plunging the cash-strapped nation into uncharted waters and risking a default and capital controls as hopes for an agreement faded, Reuters reported.

"Our responsibility is for the future of our country. This responsibility obliges us to respond to the ultimatum through the sovereign will of the Greek people," Tsipras said in a televised address to the nation just after midnight.

Eurozone finance ministers were still due to meet at 1200 GMT (1400 CET) in Brussels to discuss the aid offer from the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund, just after the Greek parliament meets to approve the referendum decision.

Germany's Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel urged Greece to reach a deal with creditors to give Greeks something to vote on.

"We'd be well advised not to dismiss this suggestion from Herr Tsipras out of hand and say 'that's just a trick'," Gabriel told Deutschlandfunk radio. "But rather if the questions are clearly framed... then that could make sense."

Tsipras, the 40-year-old novice prime minister, said he would respect the outcome of the vote. But he argued the lenders demands "clearly violate European social rules and fundamental rights", would asphyxiate Greece's flailing economy and aimed at the "humiliation of the entire Greek people".

Government ministers emerging from the cabinet meeting in Athens said they were confident Greeks would vote no and reject the bailout demands, leaving open the question as to whether the country had other options beside leaving the euro.

The referendum call puts the country's banking system into focus, though a deputy minister said there were no plans to impose capital controls and banks would open on Monday.

The eurozone had offered to release billions in frozen aid if Greece accepted and implemented pension and tax reforms that are anathema to its leftist government, elected in January on a promise to end austerity.

Without the bailout funds, Athens is due to default on 1.6 billion euros in repayments to the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday, pushing Greece closer to being forced out of the euro, causing chaos for its economy and financial markets.