Athens: Greece braced itself on Saturday ahead of a make-or-break bailout referendum as polls showed the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ camps neck and neck and uncertainty rose over the future of the country’s battered economy.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras got a rock-star welcome at an Athens rally late Friday as he sought to revive support for a ‘no’ vote in a referendum called to strengthen his hand in talks with international creditors.
But the most recent polls suggested Sunday’s plebiscite on Greece’s latest bailout offer from its international creditors was too close to call, with the nation of 11 million people evenly divided.
European Union leaders have warned that a ‘no’ victory could cause Greece to crash out of the Eurozone. But Mr Tsipras and his closest ally Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis have accused them of fear-mongering.
In an interview published on Saturday the outspoken Varoufakis accused Athens’s creditors of “terrorism”.
“What they’re doing with Greece has a name – terrorism,” he told the Spanish El Mundo daily. “What Brussels and the troika want today is for the ‘yes’ (vote) to win so they could humiliate the Greeks.”
As tensions rose he was forced to deny a Financial Times report that suggested Greek savers could lose 30 per cent of their bank deposits to shore up the banking system, slamming it a “malicious rumour”.
The British business daily, quoting unidentified bankers and businessmen close to negotiations, reported that Greek depositors with over 8,000 euros ($8,900) in an account may be force to take a “haircut”.
Rumours that capital controls imposed by the government were leading to food and medicine shortages were spooking Greeks, as was growing uncertainty over when the country’s banks would reopen.
“I’ve heard shops are running out of flour, sugar and salt. I’m really worried, how will we manage if we can’t get to our money and there’s no food to buy?” said Lena Antoniou, a 35-year old mother of two.
Nikos Archondis from the Panhellenic Exporters Association (PEA) told AFP “certain supermarkets are very concerned because they cannot forecast how the situation will evolve,” adding that stocks of meat, cheeses, fruits and vegetables “risk running low in the following weeks”.
A defiant Mr Tsipras told 25,000 cheering supporters at Friday’s rally to “say ‘no’ to ultimatums and to turn your back on those who would terrorise you,” adding: “No one can ignore this passion and optimism.”
A rival rally of 22,000 ‘yes’ supporters shouted pro-European slogans and voiced fears of a so-called “Grexit” from the Eurozone and a return to Greece’s former currency, the drachma, if Mr Tsipras got his way.
“They cannot pretend any longer that it’s not about leaving the euro,” said a 43-year-old doctor who gave his first name as Nikos. “Outside the euro lies only misery.”
Neck and neck
Many Greeks have jumped into the ‘yes’ camp since capital controls were imposed this week limiting daily ATM withdrawals to just 60 euros ($67) after Greece’s international aid package ran out on Tuesday.
Fresh ATM queues snaked along pavements Saturday morning, with many faces drawn or pinched with anxiety as voters confessed they thought Sunday’s referendum was going to be an extremely tight race.
Adding to the sense of crisis, a Eurozone emergency fund officially declared Greece to be in default on Friday for not making a 1.5-billion-euro payment to the International Monetary Fund this week.
The latest voter intention polls, published late Friday, showed the pro and anti-bailout camps were neck and neck.
A GPO poll put the ‘yes’ voters at 44.1 per cent and the ‘no’ at 43.7 per cent, while an Alco survey found 44.5 per cent would vote ‘yes’ while 43.9 per cent would vote ‘no’.
Mr Tsipras says the vote is needed to force creditors to finally accept his key demand of another round of debt relief to save Greece from financial meltdown and possibly crashing out of the euro.
But critics have complained the very technical bailout question being put to people in the referendum is unintelligible, while Eurozone officials have said that the “deal” referred to expired on Tuesday.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker warned in Brussels that Greece’s negotiating position would be “dramatically weakened” in the event of a ‘no’ – and still difficult even in the event of a ‘yes’ vote.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, known for his tough line against Athens’s leaders, said it was clear Greece’s leftist leaders did not really want any reform programme.
“Only the Greeks” can now decide if they want to stay in the Eurozone, he told German daily Bild.
European leaders fear the referendum will not only seal Greece’s fate: Eurosceptic parties at the extreme left and right of the political spectrum have been exploiting the Greek referendum to bash the euro currency.
Mr Tsipras insists Greece needs to trim its suffocating 323-billion-euro debt burden by having creditors forgive 30 per cent of what they are owed and allowing a 20-year grace period for repaying the rest.
Mr Varoufakis has promised banks would reopen on Tuesday if a new deal is agreed quickly, and the Union of Greek Banks said Friday its members had enough liquidity until then.
But on Greece’s streets, the cash rationing has led many to despair, especially pensioners who have been allowed a one-off over-the-counter withdrawal of 120 euros if they don’t have a bank card.
In the second-biggest city of Thessaloniki, one 77-year-old man unable to withdraw his money crumpled to the ground, scattering his papers.
“I am a sensitive person,” the man, George Chatzifotiadi, explained later to AFP. “I cannot stand to see my country in this situation.”
Kremlin calls new US military strategy ‘confrontational’
Jennifer Griffin and Lucas Tomlinson
New evidence is exposing Russia’s deepening role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, suggesting Vladimir Putin may be preparing to gobble up more territory undeterred by NATO — as a new U.S. military document highlights the extent of Moscow’s aggression.
Bloomberg View reported that Ukraine security officials have found five Russian generals are playing a lead role commanding separatist units inside the country, despite Kremlin denials. This comes as aerial video shot by a drone — and provided by pro-Ukraine fighting units — depicts the build-up of a Russian military base with tanks and other gear in eastern Ukraine.
“We see a more assertive Russia trying to intimidate neighbors and change borders,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg recently said.
The NATO secretary general spoke after inspecting one of six new forward bases the alliance is building in Romania and the neighboring Baltics — a response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. It’s the biggest reinforcement of NATO’s collective defense since the end of the Cold War.
Whether it will be enough remains to be seen. Retired Maj. Gen. Bob Scales, a Fox News military analyst, said that western action may be no more than a “pinprick” at this stage and that Putin’s got five or six “modernized divisions” on the Ukrainian border.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military released an updated “National Military Strategy” which mentioned Russia seven times — even more than it cited the Islamic State threat.
The report said while Russia has helped in certain counterterrorism and counternarcotics efforts, it has “repeatedly demonstrated that it does not respect the sovereignty of its neighbors and it is willing to use force to achieve its goals.”
The strategy said: “Russia’s military actions are undermining regional security directly and through proxy forces.” In a startling passage, the document also said, “Today, the probability of U.S. involvement in interstate war with a major power is assessed to be low but growing.”
The Kremlin responded angrily Thursday to the new U.S. military strategy, calling it “confrontational.”
In a sobering assessment, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said since the last such military strategy was published four years ago, “global disorder has trended upward while some of our comparative advantages have begun to erode.”
The latest intelligence showing five Russian generals are leading Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine reportedly was presented in an intelligence dossier to the White House and Congress last month.
According to Bloomberg, the document goes beyond past accusations by naming specific Russian generals.
The drone footage of the military camp, meanwhile, was first reported by The Daily Beast. The report said the footage initially showed a few tents and vehicles. The drone flew over the same area two weeks later, exposing a full base with tanks and new roads.
According to the report, the base is located between one Ukrainian-held area and one separatist-held area — and the camp could be part of any upcoming offensive against the vital city of Mariupol.
Gen. Philip Breedlove, the Supreme Allied commander in Europe, estimates 7,000 Russian troops are currently in Ukraine, despite Russian denials.
“What smart people are saying is that Mr. Putin is very clear that he does not want Kiev leaning to the West and he will use the appropriate force necessary to keep Kiev from leaning to the West,” he said at a June 25 news conference in Brussels
“Putin’s got lots of time to do this, he’s in no hurry,” Scales said. “He’s waiting for the opportunity to be about right and then the Russians are going to continue their advance.”
European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker told Greek voters today they would be rejecting the European Union if they opposed creditors’ reform…
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called for a referendum on Friday night.
European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker told Greek voters today they would be rejecting the European Union if they opposed creditors’ reform proposals in Sunday’s referendum.
“A ‘No’ would mean, regardless of the question posed, that Greece had said no to Europe,” Juncker said during a press conference in Brussels.
He also made clear his frustration with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s behaviour during negotiations in a bid to secure a reform package, which culminated with Tsipras’s call for a referendum on Friday night.
“After all the efforts I deployed from the commission, I feel betrayed because these efforts were insufficiently taken into account,” Juncker said.
He directly urged voters in Greece to support creditors’ reform proposals, saying it was “not a stupid austerity package.”
“I will ask the Greek people to vote ‘Yes’,” he said, adding that one “should not commit suicide because one is afraid of death.”
“It’s time for Greece’s political leaders to show their responsibility to tell their people what’s really at stake,” Juncker said.
He added that turning around the ravaged Greek economy remained a huge challenge.
“It will not be easy, but it’s necessary,” he said.
“Others have done it, just ask the Irish, Portuguese, Spanish and Latvians,” he said, referring to European countries that have previously implemented harsh austerity measures to get through economic crisis.
Secretary of State John Kerry, third left, and Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister of Iran, second right, during a meeting in Vienna on Wednesday.
By THOMAS ERDBRINK
TEHRAN — President Hassan Rouhani of Iran will meet with the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency on Thursday in an effort to resolve differences over the inspection of military sites, the Iranian news media reported.
Yukiya Amano, the head of the atomic energy agency, will also hold talks with Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, the state news agency IRNA reported on Wednesday.
Mr. Amano is traveling to Iran as negotiators in Vienna continue high-level talks aimed at reaching a comprehensive accord regarding Iran’s nuclear program before the recently extended deadline of July 7. The negotiators were joined on Monday by Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization.
In Vienna, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, said that Iran had invited Mr. Amano to travel to Tehran.
A small group of hard-liners gathered at the base of Tehran’s Freedom Tower to urge a nuclear deal with few compromises.Divide on Iran Nuclear Deal: Hard-Liners vs. ‘Invisible People’JUNE 30, 2015
slideshow Stress and Hope in TehranMARCH 28, 2015
graphic The Iran Nuclear Deal’s Definition Depends on Who’s TalkingAPRIL 6, 2015
“We invited Mr. Amano to go to Iran to work with our officials on how to proceed,” Mr. Zarif said as the start of a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry and other senior American officials.
Asked if Mr. Amano’s trip meant the two sides were closing the gap on the steps needed to monitor the agreement, Mr. Zarif said, “Let him decide.”
Iran is eager to address the issue of the so-called possible military dimensions of its nuclear program, an unnamed Iranian diplomat told the website Alef.ir on Wednesday.
The resumption of negotiations was further complicated by comments from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who said that the inspection of military sites would be a red line in the talks, and Iran has said it would not allow nuclear scientists to be interviewed.
Iran has emphasized its need for independence, saying that such measures amount to spying, and Parliament passed legislation last week that would ban central concessions in the nuclear talks.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog, would be tasked with verifying Iran’s obligations under any potential agreement, and the findings of its inspectors would partly decide its success or failure.
“We believe the topic of possible military dimension can be solved without accessing the militarily sites,” the Iranian diplomat said.
Iran thinks a solution can be found in a 2013 framework agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, although the diplomat did not elaborate on how such an accord would play out, Alef.ir reported.
Separately, after a decision by the European Union to suspend some sanctions in response to the extension of the deadline beyond June 30, Britain removed a former official of the Atomic Energy Organization from its sanctions list, along with eight companies accused of involvement in the breaking of sanctions, IRNA reported.
Newspapers were on display in central Athens on Tuesday, the deadline for Greece to make a debt payment of 1.6 billion euros to the International Monetary Fund.
By JIM YARDLEY and NIKI KITSANTONIS
ATHENS — With just hours to go before Greece hits a deadline for a debt payment it cannot afford, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Tuesday asked the other nations that use the euro to extend another bailout and buy Athens time to renegotiate its crippling debt load.
Finance ministers of the eurozone countries said they would hold an emergency session Tuesday night to consider the proposal. There were no signs that the last-minute Greek proposal would be accepted, but the plan, coming after top European Union officials made another offer to Mr. Tsipras on Monday night, suggested that the two sides were both at least interested in getting back to the negotiating table ahead of a national referendum scheduled for Sunday in Greece.
Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the head of the Eurogroup of finance ministers, wrote on his Twitter account that the ministers would hold a teleconference at 7 p.m. Brussels time “to discuss official request of Greek government received this afternoon.”
The flurry of events came after Mr. Tsipras’s office released a statement on Tuesday afternoon confirming that his government had forwarded a proposal to the Eurogroup and to a bailout fund called the European Stability Mechanism. The statement was vague, noting that Greece had applied for a two-year agreement for new loans from a pool of money under the control of the eurozone countries. The statement said the aim was to help the country meet its debt obligations, while Greece would remain in the eurozone and continue to seek a solution.
The lack of specificity in the statement made it unclear whether it was just a repackaging of previous requests — already rejected in Brussels — or if the prime minister had offered new substantive proposals that could help the negotiations. Mr. Tsipras’s plan would amount to a third bailout of Greece since it was struck by the financial crisis more than five years ago.
Hours earlier, Mr. Tsipras had spoken by telephone with Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, Mario Draghi, chief of the European Central Bank, and Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament. Meanwhile, inside the Greek government, competing voices were jousting over how to proceed, analysts said.
“What is certain is that there is a lot of pressure inside the government,” said George Pagoulatos, a political analyst in Athens. “There are some people there who realize the huge risks in the path the country is on.”
The clock is clearly ticking. Tuesday is the final day in which Greece can make a debt payment of 1.6 billion euros, or about $1.78 billion, due to the International Monetary Fund. Asked on Tuesday whether Greece would make the payment, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis replied, “No.” When asked by a reporter about the possibility of a last-minute aid deal with international creditors, he answered, “We hope so.”
Included in the new Greek proposal was a request that the current bailout program be extended for a short period to avert a technical default Tuesday night on the payment to the I.M.F.
Failure to make the payment would not only put Greece in arrears to the I.M.F., but also cast further doubt on its willingness and ability to meet other financial obligations in the coming weeks. Greece’s broader European bailout program, the lifeline that has helped keep the country afloat, also expires at midnight in Brussels. With its banking system shut down, Greece faces intensifying financial troubles, and it could be forced to abandon the euro as its currency if no deal can be reached for additional financing.
Negotiations have been going on for months, as Greece has sought to unlock a frozen €7.2 billion bailout payment and complete a new comprehensive agreement that would include more funding and major debt relief. But the talks broke down last weekend, after Mr. Tsipras unexpectedly announced that a “yes or no” national referendum would be held so that voters could decide whether to accept the terms proposed by creditors.
Initially, European officials were furious, interpreting the move as brinkmanship in the negotiations. But on Monday, several European leaders, notably Mr. Juncker, began openly lobbying Greek voters to choose “yes.” Mr. Tsipras had asked European officials to extend the bailout program for several days, beyond the Sunday referendum, but they refused.
Mr. Tsipras has called on voters to choose “no” and has denied that the referendum is the equivalent of choosing whether to leave Europe’s currency union, something that most Greeks do not want to do.
“From the first moment, we had made it clear that the decision to carry out a referendum is not the end but the continuation of negotiations, with a better outcome for the Greek people,” the statement released by Mr. Tsipras’s office said. “Greece remains at the negotiating table.”
Global investors are closely watching whether Greece fails to make Tuesday’s payment to the I.M.F., amid concerns that a Greek fiscal crisis could ripple to other vulnerable countries. Greek officials have already suggested that they will not make the payment absent a broader new debt deal with Europe.
Mr. Tsipras used a Monday night interview with a state-owned broadcaster to suggest that Greece would skip the payment, and he also blamed the European Central Bank for capping emergency loans that had kept the banking system afloat. The government responded by closing banks this week and instituting broader capital controls.
“How is it possible the creditors are waiting for the I.M.F. payment while our banks are being asphyxiated?” Mr. Tsipras said. “If they decide to stop the asphyxiation, the installments will be paid.”
Closing the banks has upended the lives of many Greek pensioners, who usually withdraw their pensions in person at a bank branch. In response, the government is expected to open hundreds of branches for use by pensioners only. Meanwhile, the state treasury is running out of money.
On Tuesday, reporters in Berlin asked Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, a critical figure in the talks, whether a last-minute deal could be reached. Ms. Merkel insisted there had been no change in the situation since Monday.
“Tonight at exactly midnight, the program ends,” she said.
“I do not have any other reliable indications” to the contrary, she added. “That does not mean that we will cut the lines of communication. That means the door remains open.”
Worldwide markets facing fallout from Greece debt crisis.
ATHENS – Anxious Greek pensioners swarmed closed bank branches Monday in the hope of getting their pensions, while queues formed at ATMs as they gradually began dispensing cash again following the imposition of strict controls on capital.
As global markets plunged following one of the most dramatic weekends in Greece’s five-year financial saga, the country woke up to a changed financial landscape that many in the markets fear could be a prelude to a messy debt default and a damaging Greek exit from the euro.
The banks and the country’s stock market have been closed for the week after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ surprise call for a referendum next Sunday on budget and reform proposals creditors are demanding Greece should take to gain access to blocked bailout funds. Tsipras is advocating Greeks reject the proposals in the popular vote, which increasingly has the look of a vote on euro membership itself.
The sense of unease was evident in the number of pensioners lining up at bank branches hoping they might open. Many elderly Greeks don’t have bank cards and make withdrawals in person at the till, and so find themselves completely cut off from their money. One of the most onerous controls is a daily limit of 60 euros ($67) on cash withdrawals from ATMs.
“I came here at 4 a.m. because I have to get my pension,” said 74-year-old Anastasios Gevelidis, one of about 100 retirees waiting outside the main branch of National Bank of Greece in the country’s second largest city of Thessaloniki.
“I don’t have a card, I don’t know what’s going on, we don’t even have enough money to buy bread,” he said. “Nobody knows anything. A bank employee came out at 8 a.m. and told us `you’re not going to get any money,’ but we’re hearing that 70 branches will open.”
The finance ministry said the manner in which pensions would be paid would be announced later Monday afternoon.
Deputy Minister of State Terence Quick said special arrangements would be made for pensions, telling private Antenna television that pensions would be dispensed in full as many pensioners don’t have bank cards.
The daily withdrawal limit wouldn’t be enough to cover many basic necessities. “What can I do first with 60 euros? I owe 150 just to the pharmacy,” Gevelidis said.
The capital controls are meant to staunch the flow of money out of Greek banks and spur the country’s creditors to offer concessions before Greece’s international bailout program expires Tuesday.
Without a deal to extend the bailout program, Greece will lose access to the remaining 7.2 billion euros ($8.1 billion) of rescue loans, and is unlikely to be able to meet a 1.6 billion-euro debt repayment to the International Monetary Fund due the same day.
The accelerating crisis has thrown into question Greece’s financial future and continued membership in the 19-nation shared euro currency — and even the 28-country European Union.
Investors around the world are worried that should Greece leave the euro and say it can’t pay its debts, which stand at more than 300 billion euros, the global economic recovery could be derailed and questions would grow over the long-term viability of the euro currency itself.
“The images of queues at ATMs in Greece are stripping traders of what little confidence they have left in the nation, and the financial earthquake that happened in the eurozone over the weekend can be felt around the world,” said David Madden, market analyst at IG.
Among the major markets in Europe, the CAC-40 stock index in France was down 3.6 percent at 4,877 while Germany’s DAX fell 3.5 percent to 11,088.
Aside from developments at the banks in Greece, massive queues formed at gas stations, with worried motorists seeking to fill up their tanks and pay with credit cards while they were still being accepted.
Although credit and cash card transactions have not been restricted, many retailers were not accepting card transactions Monday morning.
Electronic transfers and bill payments are allowed, but only within the country. The government also stressed the controls would not affect foreign tourists, who would have no limits on cash withdrawals with foreign bank cards.
For emergency needs, such as importing medicines or sending remittances abroad, the Greek Treasury was creating a Banking Transactions Approval Committee to examine requests on a case-by-case basis.
Tsipras announced the capital controls in a televised address Sunday night, blaming the eurogroup, the gathering of the eurozone’s finance ministers, and its decision to reject an extension request for the bailout program. He has asked again for the extension to allow for the referendum.
French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said talks with Greece could resume at any time, while Pierre Moscovici, the European commissioner for economic affairs, said negotiations were cut off when an agreement seemed within reach.
The situation now largely rests on a `yes’ vote in Greece, Moscovici said.
The referendum decision, ratified by Parliament after a marathon 13-hour session that ended in the early hours of Sunday, shocked and angered Greece’s European partners. The country’s negotiations with its European creditors have been suspended, with both sides accusing each other of being responsible for talks breaking off.
Greece is dividing into two camps ahead of the referendum. A demonstration is planned in Athens later Monday by those against the proposals from the creditors. Another one is planned for Tuesday by those who want to make sure that Greece’s position in Europe is not threatened.
Tsipras also blamed the European Central Bank’s Sunday decision not to increase the amount of emergency liquidity the lenders could access from the central bank — meaning Greece has no way to replenish fast-diminishing deposits.
“It is now more than clear that this decision has no other aim than to blackmail the will of the Greek people and prevent the smooth democratic process of the referendum,” Tsipras said. “They will not succeed.”
European Central Bank head urges eurozone countries to ‘address fragilities’
People line up outside a bank which normally operates on Saturday but remained closed, in central Athens.
The European Central Bank has announced it is maintaining emergency credit to Greek banks at its current level, a day after the country’s parliament approved holding a referendum next week on whether to accept creditors’ financial proposals in return for bailout loans.
Greek parliament approves referendum on bailout deal
The ECB’s decision keeps a key financial lifeline open but does not provide further credit to Greece’s banks, which are seeing deposits drain away as anxious Greeks withdraw savings.
The ECB had said it was considering tightening assistance to the banks, but on Sunday said it was still working closely with the Bank of Greece to maintain financial stability and added it could reconsider its decision on credit levels.
“We continue to work closely with the Bank of Greece and we strongly endorse the commitment of member states in pledging to take action to address the fragilities of euro-area economies,” ECB head Mario Draghi said.
Worried Greeks continued lining up at ATM machines Sunday morning. While some machines were running out of cash, others were being replenished.
Tsipras’ move for a national vote on July 5 startled and angered Greece’s European partners and threw the country’s bailout negotiations with international lenders into turmoil. Parliament approved the referendum call in a majority vote on Saturday.
But Greece’s international bailout with its European creditors and the International Monetary Fund expires Tuesday, and Greece’s European partners said they would not accept an extension of the bailout until Sunday’s referendum.
With Greece also facing a 1.6 billion-euro debt repayment to the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday — one it will struggle to meet without bailout funds — the developments have thrown Greece’s financial future and its continued membership in the 19-nation shared euro currency into question.
Alternate Greek Finance Minister Nadia Valavani said the government was “expecting the funding of Greek banks to continue normally via the ELA after Tuesday.”
Bank customers urged to remain calm
Valavani urged Greeks themselves to show restraint, telling private Mega television the country’s banks could see “business as usual” next week if they receive the emergency support “so long as there is calm” and Greeks don’t attempt to withdraw all their savings.
The ECB’s emergency liquidity currently stands at just under 90 billion euros ($100 billion US), a financial lifeline that has been keeping the country’s four major banks going. The ECB has been slowly increasing the amount of emergency credit which has been compensating for the increase in withdrawals from Greek banks.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Sunday urged Greece and other nations to do whatever they can to keep Greece in the 19-nation bloc that uses the euro currency.
“We don’t know, none of us, the consequences of an exit from the eurozone, either on the political or economic front. We must do everything so that Greece stays in the eurozone,” Valls said on France’s i-Tele TV.
Germany all but buried negotiations to keep Greece from default on Saturday, saying a surprise decision by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to call a referendum…
By: Reuters | Athens/brussels
Germany all but buried negotiations to keep Greece from default on Saturday, saying a surprise decision by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to call a referendum had left nothing to discuss but how to cope with failure.
Worried the country could default and even leave the euro zone, some Greeks queued up at cash machines to withdraw funds, though there were no signs of panic in Athens. Many sounded defiant, saying Tsipras had offered them an important chance to determine their own fate.
European Finance Ministers met in Brussels for what had been intended as a final negotiation for a deal to rescue Greece from defaulting on a big debt payment on Tuesday, when an international bailout expires.
But after they were blindsided by Tsipras’s surprise middle-of-the-night announcement that he rejected their offer and would put it to voters only after Tuesday’s deadline, several said all that remained to discuss was “Plan B” – how to limit the damage.
“We have no basis for further negotiations,” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said. “Clearly we can never rule out surprises with Greece, so there can always be hope. But none of my colleagues with whom I’ve already spoken see any possibilities for what we can now do.”
“Greece has left the negotiating table and so we are in a situation where on Tuesday the programme ends, because there are no more negotiations,” he said.
Finland’s Alexander Stubb called it “potentially a very sad day, specifically for the Greek people. I think with the announcement of this referendum we’re basically closing the door for any further negotiations.”
“There is pretty much a consensus inside the Eurogroup that we cannot extend the programme as it stands and consequently I would argue that Plan B becomes Plan A.”
With most Greek banks closed for the weekend, there was no sign of panic on the streets of Athens. Government officials said there was no plan to impose capital controls that would limit withdrawals.
But police tightened security around bank teller machines as lines formed at some teller machines in the darkness almost as soon as Tsipras’s early hours televised speech was finished.
The Bank of Greece said it was making “huge efforts” to ensure the machines remained stocked.
One branch of Piraeus bank that is normally open on Saturdays was shut, with around 100 people queued outside. A senior executive said the plan was to open the branch but staff were weighing security concerns because of the queue.
After months of bitter wrangling with the lenders, Tsipras announced that he would put the terms of the creditors’ “humiliating” offer to a popular vote on July 5.
Interior Minister Nikos Voutsis called for calm, telling lawmakers: “The game is not over for the country, its people, this parliament.”
Without a clear agreement on bailout cash, Athens is set to default on 1.6 billion euros of debt to the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday.
Its stricken banks have depended on emergency liquidity from the European Central Bank to stay open, and the banking system faces at the very least a further flood of withdrawals after billions have left in recent weeks.
Long lines were reported in some supermarkets in Athens as people stocked up with supplies.
However, along with the worry, there were also signs of defiance and almost relief after years of relentless austerity and seemingly endless rounds of crisis meetings with lenders.
“The referendum, I think, is necessary in the sense that we must send a message to Europeans that the Greek people are not enslaved, we are no longer under occupation,” said Elias Papachadzis, a 49-year-old Athenian resident.
Tsipras has asked for a few days’ extension of the bailout to accommodate the referendum, though Schaeuble’s remarks suggest it would be difficult to win a grace period.
The 40-year-old 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.
QUEUES AT BANKS
As parliament met to approve the referendum, the ruling Syriza party appealed to voters to reject the bailout and said the referendum was a key part of a wider rejection of austerity policies across the continent.
“The battle we’re fighting is not just for us, it is for dignity and democracy throughout Europe,” its political committee said in a statement.
The euro zone 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.
Opposition parties attacked the government, saying Tsipras’s hardline stance had brought Greece to its knees.
“Tsipras brought the country to a total deadlock. Between an unacceptable agreement and a euro exit,” his conservative predecessor Antonis Samaras said. The referendum question was effectively a “yes” or “no” to Europe, he said.
The drama came after weeks of phone calls, face-to-face-discussions and several rounds of meetings among European leaders and its to sort out Greece’s troubles.
The creditors had laid out their terms in a document handed to Greece on Thursday. It said Athens could have 15.5 billion euros in EU and IMF funding in four instalments to see it through to the end of November, including 1.8 billion euros by Tuesday, as soon as the Greek parliament approved the plan.
The total is barely more than what Greece needs to service its debts over the next six months and contains no new money. Further funding would require a third bailout programme, which is politically impossible for the moment in Athens and Berlin.
The lenders also made a gesture towards Tsipras’ demands for debt relief by offering to reaffirm a 2012 pledge to consider stretching out loan maturities, lowering interest rates and extending an interest payment moratorium on euro zone loans to Greece, a senior EU official said.
But the demands come at the price of pension cutbacks, new reductions in public sector salaries, an increase in taxes on food, restaurants and tourism, and elimination of tax breaks on tourist islands. That has sparked protests in Greece, where one in four people are out of work.
US Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage.
The Supreme Court ruled Friday that same-sex couples have a right to marry nationwide, in a historic decision that invalidates gay marriage bans in more than a dozen states.
Gay and lesbian couples already can marry in 36 states and the District of Columbia. But in a 5-4 ruling, the court held that the 14th Amendment requires states to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples and to recognize such marriages performed in other states.
The ruling means the remaining 14 states that did not allow such unions, in the South and Midwest, will have to stop enforcing their bans on same-sex marriage.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, just as he did in the court’s previous three major gay rights cases dating back to 1996.
“No union is more profound than marriage,” Kennedy wrote, joined by the court’s four more liberal justices.
The outcome is the culmination of two decades of Supreme Court litigation over marriage, and gay rights generally. Cheers broke out outside the Supreme Court when the decision was announced.
President Obama tweeted: “Today is a big step in our march toward equality.”
But other justices argued that the court should not be able to order states to change their marriage definition. Chief Justice John Roberts, in a dissent joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, called the ruling an “extraordinary step.”
“Many people will rejoice at this decision, and I begrudge none their celebration. But for those who believe in a government of laws, not of men, the majority’s approach is deeply disheartening,” they wrote.
“The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment.”
The ruling will not take effect immediately because the court gives the losing side roughly three weeks to ask for reconsideration. But some state officials and county clerks might decide there is little risk in issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The cases before the court involved laws from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Those states have not allowed same-sex couples to marry within their borders and they also have refused to recognize valid marriages from elsewhere. They previously had their bans upheld by a federal appeals court.
Just two years ago, the Supreme Court struck down part of the federal anti-gay marriage law that denied a range of government benefits to legally married same-sex couples.
There are an estimated 390,000 married same-sex couples in the United States, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute, which tracks the demographics of gay and lesbian Americans. Another 70,000 couples living in states that do not currently permit them to wed would get married in the next three years, the institute says. Roughly 1 million same-sex couples, married and unmarried, live together in the United States, the institute says.
The Obama administration backed the right of same-sex couples to marry. The Justice Department’s decision to stop defending the federal anti-marriage law in 2011 was an important moment for gay rights and Obama declared his support for same-sex marriage in
March 22, 2013: Shows the exterior of the Internal Revenue Service building in Washington
Fox News’ Chad Pergram and The Associated Press
WASHINGTON – A congressional hearing Thursday morning is expected to reveal evidence was destroyed during the investigation into the IRS targeting scandal, months after the agency was told to preserve documents, Fox News is told.
J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, is expected to tell the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee his office found no direct evidence the destruction was intentional.
But the destruction nevertheless defied a preservation order, and is sure to raise suspicions over motive.
The IG will specifically reveal that IRS employees erased computer backup tapes a month after officials discovered thousands of emails related to the tax agency’s Tea Party scandal had been lost.
As many as 24,000 emails were lost because 422 backup tapes were erased.
George says those tapes “most likely” contained emails to and from former IRS official Lois Lerner, who has emerged as a central figure in congressional investigations.
A source familiar with the matter told Fox News that the hearing will show the evidence was destroyed 10 months after a preservation order for the emails; seven months after a subpoena; and one month after IRS officials realized there were potential problems locating certain emails.
Fox News is told the destruction of evidence also occurred about three weeks before IRS Commissioner John Koskinen testified to Congress that they would provide documents to Congress.
Further, the IG is expected to conclusively testify that the IRS never looked at five of the six potential places where the emails might have been stored.
An IRS spokeswoman told the Associated Press Wednesday evening the agency had no immediate comment.
George set off a firestorm in May 2013 with an audit that said IRS agents improperly singled out Tea Party and other conservative groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status during the 2010 and 2012 elections.
Several hundred groups had their applications delayed for a year or more. Some were asked inappropriate questions about donors and group activities, the inspector general’s report said.
Lerner used to head the IRS division that processes applications for tax-exempt status. In June 2014, the IRS told Congress it had lost an unknown number of Lerner’s emails when her computer hard drive crashed in 2011.
The IRS had discovered that the emails were lost in February 2014. A total of 422 computer backup tapes were erased a month later, George says in his testimony, and those tapes probably contained additional Lerner emails.
The IRS says it has produced 78,000 Lerner emails, many of which have been made public by congressional investigators. IRS officials said no more could be recovered.
George, however, said the IRS never examined backup tapes that ultimately produced more than 1,000 additional emails.
George started investigating the lost emails last year after the IRS announced they were destroyed. His testimony before the Oversight Committee summarizes the results of the investigation.
George says the workers who erased the computer tapes were unaware of a 2013 directive from the agency’s chief technology officer to halt the destruction of email backup tapes.
“The investigation uncovered testimony and e-mail traffic between IRS employees that indicate that the involved employees did not know about, comprehend or follow the chief technology officer’s May 22, 2013, e-mail directive to halt the destruction of e-mail backup media due to ‘the current environment’ and ongoing investigations,” George says in his testimony.
After George’s initial report, much of the agency’s top leadership was forced to retire or resign, including Lerner. The Justice Department and several congressional committees launched investigations.
Lerner emerged as a central figure in the controversy after she refused to answer questions at two House Oversight hearings, invoking her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself at both hearings. At the first hearing, Lerner made a statement saying she had done nothing wrong.
Last year, the House voted mostly along party lines to hold her in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions at the hearings. The U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia declined to prosecute her.