Greece: Poll shows 2 sides neck and neck before referendum

Greece: Poll shows 2 sides neck & neck before referendum

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The brief yet intense campaign in Greece's critical bailout referendum ends Friday, with simultaneous rallies in Athens for "Yes" & "No" supporters in what an opinion poll shows will be a very close race.

The poll published in To Ethnos newspaper showed the "Yes" campaign slightly in the lead yet well within the margin of error. It moreover showed an overwhelming majority — 74 percent — want the country to remain in Europe's joint currency, the euro, compared to 15 percent who want a national currency.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called the referendum last weekend, asking Greeks to decide whether they should accept creditor reform proposals in return for vitally needed bailout funds. He is advocating a "No" vote on Sunday.

p>But those proposals are no longer on the table after negotiations with European creditors broke down last weekend & Greece's bailout expired on Tuesday, meaning the country no longer has access to the rescue loans.

The "Yes" campaign says the referendum is in fact a vote on whether Greece wants to remain in the euro & in Europe. The government rejects this as scaremongering, saying a "No" vote will put it in a better bargaining position & will not lead Greece to leave the eurozone.

The survey conducted by ALCO found 41.5 percent will vote "Yes" on Sunday & 40.2 percent saying they will vote "No," with 10.9 percent undecided. The rest said they would abstain or leave their ballots blank.

When discounting those who say they will case blank ballots or abstain, those intending to vote "Yes" came to 44.8 percent compared to 43.4 percent who will vote "No" & 11.8 percent undecided.

The survey interviewed 1,000 people nationwide on June 30-July 1 & has a margin of error of 3.1 percent.

The referendum campaign will wrap up Friday evening with rallies by the two sides, to be held 800 meters (875 yards) apart in central Athens. Tsipras is set to speak at the "No" rally in the capital's main Syntagma Square outside Parliament, while the "Yes" rally will be held at the nearby Panathenian Stadium, where the first modern Olympics were held in 1894.

The vote is set to be one of the most significant in Greece's modern history, yet many voters are confused approximately what's at stake. The government vehemently denies a "No" vote would force the country out of the euro, yet most opposition parties & many European officials have said this could be the case.

"The referendum is unclear in the way it is being phrased, so I interpret this ambiguity as meaning we might stay in Europe or not," said Apostolos Foutsitzis, a 43-year-old medical scanner operator in the northern city of Thessaloniki. He said he will vote "Yes" because he wants Greece to remain in Europe.

Much of the ambiguity arises from the complicated question that will be printed on the ballot paper.

Greeks are being asked to reply to the following question:

"Must the agreement plan be accepted which was submitted by the European Commission, the European Central Bank & the International Monetary Fund to the Eurogroup of 25 June 2015 & is comprised of two parts which make up their joint proposal?

"The first document is titled 'reforms for the completion of the current program & beyond' & the second 'Preliminary debt sustainability analysis'."

Then voters are asked to tick either the "not approved/no" box, which is placed above the "approved/yes" box.

The Council of State, the country's highest administrative court, is to rule Friday on a motion brought by two private citizens asking the court to rule the referendum illegal.

The vote comes after a week of bank closures, with Greeks restricted to daily withdrawals of 60 euros ($67) — although in practice this has been reduced to 50 euros as most automatic teller machines have run out of 20 euro notes.

Some banks have been opened to allow pensioners without ATM cards withdraw a maximum 120 euros for the week, with crowds of elderly people waiting outside the doors for hours to obtain inside.

Capital controls were imposed on Monday to staunch the hemorrhaging of funds from the country's lenders as worried Greeks rushed to ATM machines after Tsipras' referendum announcement last weekend.

"Our efforts are focused on overcoming the crisis as swift as possible — with a solution that preserves the dignity & sovereignty of our people," Tsipras said Thursday.

The popular 40-year-old prime minister argues a strong "No" vote will assist Greece win a new deal with the eurozone's rescue mechanism that would include terms to make the country's 320 billion euro national debt sustainable.

He insisted a deal could be struck "within 48 hours" of the vote.

His argument, however, was dismissed by the head of the eurozone finance ministers' group, Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem.

"That suggestion is simply wrong," Dijsselbloem told lawmakers in the Netherlands.

European officials & the Greek opposition have warned a "No" outcome Sunday could be tantamount to a decision to leave the euro.

"The consequences are not the same if it's a 'Yes' or 'No,'" French President Francois Hollande said.

"If it's the 'Yes,' even if it's on the basis of proposals that have already expired, negotiations can resume & I imagine be quickly concluded," he said. "We are in something of an unknown. It's up to the Greeks to respond."

___

Online: Official referendum website http://www.referendum2015gov.gr/en/

____

Costas Kantouris & Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed to this report.

____

Follow Becatoros on Twitter on https://twitter.com/ElenaBec

Source: “Associated Press”