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The scene in Greece has become one of desperation and chaos after the country defaulted on its bailout debt, and European creditors rebuffed a late request by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from Athens on how tensions are flaring over tight limits on banking and pensions, and the upcoming referendum on Greece’s fate and Tsipras’ political future.
One day after an historic missed payment to the International Monetary Fund, the scene in Greece became ever more desperate and chaotic, as European creditors rebuffed a late request by the country's leader.
Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from Athens.
Greece's ceremonial guard symbolizing national pride marched past the prime minister's residence, as Alexis Tsipras blasted his country's creditors on national TV.
PRIME MINISTER ALEXIS TSIPRAS, Greece (through interpreter):
I know well that at this hour, the warning sirens are loud. They are blackmailing you and calling on you to vote yes to all the measures the creditors are asking for, without any prospect of coming out of this crisis.
Instead, Tsipras urged a show of defiance against austerity measures in Sunday's referendum.
ALEXIS TSIPRAS (through interpreter):
On the other hand, a no-vote is not just a slogan. No is a decisive step towards a better agreement that we aim to sign immediately after Sunday's result. It consists of the people's clear mandate on how they want to live the next day. No doesn't mean clashing with Europe, but returning to a Europe of values.
Hours earlier, Tsipras had sent a letter to those same creditors, accepting bailout terms, but with some conditions. They included keeping in place a discounted sales tax for Greek islands popular with tourists, stretching out defense spending cuts and delaying the phase-out of an income supplement for poor pensioners.
But for leaders of the European Union, it was too little, too late. The view from German Chancellor Angela Merkel reinforced by other European leaders was no deal before the referendum.
CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL, Germany (through interpreter):
Holding a referendum is a democratic sovereign right of the Greek state. It is the legitimate right of Greece to do that whenever they want and about whatever they want. But to make it as clear, it is also a democratic sovereign right of the other 18 member states of the Eurozone to respond to the Greek decision in a proportionate way.
Meanwhile, for desperate pensioners in Athens, it was another long, frustrating day outside the few designated banks that opened their doors to retirees. Only those whose last names began with the letters A through I were served, and even then, they were given the equivalent of just $133.
Do you have enough money to pay these people?
I don't know. I don't know.
Some of those in the line couldn't believe how far they'd fallen.
MAN (through interpreter):
I lived abroad for 40 years and I brought back $1.5 million back into the country.
And as the day wore on, tensions built and tempers flared.
Don't push me around or I will punch you in the face. Don't tell me how long you have been here. I have been here since 3:00 this morning.
The police were called in to keep order, and in the end, these pensioners did get their money, but it's a scene that will doubtless be repeated tomorrow with many people now past all patience.
GIORGOS HAZIDIMITRAKIS, Greece (through interpreter):
Whether they give me only 120 euros or not, it's the same thing. As far as I am concerned, they're trying to fool us.
HARALAMBOS KATIS, Greece (through interpreter):
The working class should form a society which solves the problems of the ordinary people and not the profits of the rich.
All of which sets the stage for a showdown at the ballot box.
The call by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to Greeks to vote no in Sunday's referendum should not come as a surprise to the country's European partners. Tsipras is embroiled, so he says, in a fight to restore Greek dignity. But make no mistake. He's also involved in a battle to secure his political future and legacy.
If he loses the referendum, he will no doubt have to resign and call a general election. But, according to the latest opinion polls, the no-camp is substantially in the lead with 54 percent support, where the yes-camp is trailing at 33 percent. Those numbers may narrow over the next coming days as a result of Greeks getting an early bitter taste of capital controls — Judy.
Malcolm Brabant in Athens.
And you can see more of Malcolm's reporting on the Greek crisis on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour.
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