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Greek Debt Crisis Goes to National Referendum in Government’s Hail Mary Effort; S&P Lowers Credit Rating

Depositors wait in line to withdraw precious cash from ATM machines

Updated: Monday, June 29, 2015 – 1:10 PM

(AFP) The US embassy in Athens is closely monitoring the situation in Greece and preparing to help any Americans facing difficulties amid the country’s political and economic upheavals.

US ambassador in Greece has been in touch with “all of his colleagues so that we can try to have a coordinated plan,” a senior US official told reporters travelling with Secretary of State John Kerry.

“We certainly have our embassy geared up to help Americans who find themselves in distress.”

The crisis in Greece was raised during a “fulsome” discussion between Kerry and his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Vienna late Sunday when they discussed “what it might mean, where things might be headed. What the consequences might be, and thinking through what else might be done.”

European leaders Monday pleaded with Greek voters to back hotly disputed bailout proposals in a crunch referendum or face leaving the euro as bank closures left many in Greece scrambling to find cash.

Washington issued a travel advisory some weeks ago warning “that people should travel to Greece with more than one currency. And sort of give them a heads-up that they were coming into a difficult situation,” the US official said.

US President Barack Obama and his French counterpart Francois Hollande agreed in a telephone call Monday to work together to encourage a return to the negotiating table with Greece to solve its debt crisis.

Deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner meanwhile told reporters in Washington that it was “important that all sides work to get back to a path that will allow Greece to resume reforms and return to growth within the Eurozone. And we believe this is in the best interests of Greece as well as Europe and the global economy.”

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© 1994-2015 Agence France-Presse

Updated: Monday, June 29, 2015 – 12:21 PM

(AFP) Standard & Poor’s downgraded Greece’s credit rating deeper into junk territory on Monday, saying the government’s decision to hold a referendum brought it closer to an exit of the eurozone.

“We interpret Greece’s decision to hold a referendum on official creditors’ loan proposals as a further indication that the Tsipras government will prioritize domestic politics over financial and economic stability, commercial debt payments, and eurozone membership,” said S&P, cutting the rating to ‘CCC-‘ from ‘CCC’.

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© 1994-2015 Agence France-Presse

Updated: Monday, June 29, 2015 – 12:05 PM

(AFP) Strapped for cash in crisis-hit Greece but desperate to visit the Acropolis? Tourists faced with empty ATMs need not despair, visitors to the ancient site can now pay by card for the first time.

People have long been asking to be able to use debit or credit cards to purchase the 12 euro ($13.5) entrance tickets to Athens’s hill-top citadel, the culture ministry said Monday, insisting that families wanting to admire the Parthenon up close would not be penalised for running short on cash.

Long queues have sprung up at ATMs around the city after Greece imposed capital controls and closed banks across the country, hoping to prevent a run on banks following a breakdown in its bailout talks.

Cash machine withdrawals have been capped at 60 euros per day, per card. Cards issued by foreign banks are exempt, but some tourists were coming up short Monday as ATMS across the city began to run dry.

The ministry said tour operators could also buy entry passes to the site on an IOU basis, with the money to be paid once the banks re-open.

The 2,500-year-old temple complex was used by ancient Greeks to worship Athena, the goddess of wisdom.

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© 1994-2015 Agence France-Presse

Updated: Monday, June 29, 2015 – 12:05 PM

(AFP) China wants Greece to stay in the euro and is ready to offer support on the debt crisis, Premier Li Keqiang said Monday, as Athens faces a referendum that could see it leave the single currency.

Li, the prime minister of the world’s second largest economy, said after a summit with EU leaders that it was a “critical” moment in the standoff between Greece and its EU-IMF creditors.

“China wants to see Greece stay in the eurozone and we urge relevant creditors to reach agreement with the Greek government at an a early time,” Li told a news conference.

Speaking alongside EU President Donald Tusk and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, Li added that China wanted “progress… so both Greece and Europe overcome the current challenges and crisis.”

Li did not directly answer whether Beijing was ready to offer Athens loans to help it see out the crisis, but added that China had “made its own efforts” to help Greece overcome its debt.

“Several times China has taken real actions to respond to the concern and requests from the Greek government, because we hope that Greece would do well and hope to see a united European Union,” he said.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has called a referendum on Sunday on whether Greece should accept reform plans under an international bailout.

EU ministers decided Saturday not to extend the bailout because of the lack of a deal, meaning Greece is set to default on a IMF loan repayment on Tuesday.

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© 1994-2015 Agence France-Presse

Posted: Monday, June 29, 2015 – 12:05 PM

(AFP) The ballot has been drawn up and a ‘Vote No’ poster designed: Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government has lost no time in preparing for the country’s hotly-anticipated bailout referendum.

“Should we accept the plan submitted by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund during the Eurogroup of June 25?”

That is the question which Greeks will face on Sunday, according to a copy of the ballot released after Tsipras’s unexpected decision to place the country’s financial future in the hands of the people.

A ‘No’ victory could see the country crash out of the eurozone and change the face of the EU forever. A ‘Yes’ win would likely see the government forced to stand down, and fresh elections called.

The international creditors’ plan “is composed of two parts, called ‘reforms for the completion of the current programme and beyond’ and ‘preliminary debt sustainability analysis’,” the ballot reads.

Voters must tick one of two boxes: ‘No’ or ‘Yes’.

It is rare for a government to call a referendum in which they back a ‘No’ vote.

But ‘no’ is a popular word in Greece: there is even a national holiday called the ‘No day’, in reference to Greece’s refusal to give in to an ultimatum from the Italian army, as it tried to enter Greek territory in 1940.

The bailout offer was published in Greek newspapers, is available for viewing on the European Commission website and was tweeted on Sunday by European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker.

People in Athens could be seen with printed copies in their handbags or discussing it at street cafes.

“Printing of the ballots for the July 5 vote began yesterday,” an interior ministry statement said, insisting that they would be distributed “in time, in every region of the country.”

The poster designed by Tsipras’s radical left Syriza party was posted on its website: “Vote ‘No’ for democracy and dignity”, with ‘No’ (Oxi in Greek) written large against a background of the Greek flag.

The ministry has also begun accrediting the world’s media for the big day. 

The government has not released an estimated cost for the referendum, but several Greek newspapers have suggested the bill could come to 110 million euros ($123 million) — a steep extra cost for a state already in dire straights financially.

In a bid to prevent the country’s notorious red tape from delaying the vote, the government is expected to follow to the letter arrangements made for the January elections which brought Syriza and Tsipras to power.

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© 1994-2015 Agence France-Presse

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