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Greece Crisis: Prime Minister Pushes Ahead With Referendum, Slams Talk of Euro Exit

He says a 'no' vote will step up pressure on creditors to give the country an agreement and lead Greece back to international markets.
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ATHENS — Greece's government pressed ahead Wednesday with its plan to put austerity measures to voters after European creditors rebuffed its latest proposal for a new aid program. But finance ministers were still discussing the country's situation and nothing seemed set in stone.

Many European officials had ruled out any deal with Greece before a referendum called by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras for Sunday. He is asking Greeks whether they want to accept creditors' reform proposals in return for rescue loans.

Tsipras on Wednesday defiantly said the referendum would go ahead and called on the people to vote "no." In a televised address to the nation, he said a "no" result would not mean that Greece would have to leave the euro, as many European officials have argued.

Rather, Tsipras claimed, it would give the government a stronger negotiating position with creditors.

"There are those who insist on linking the result of the referendum with the country's future in the euro," Tsipras said. "They even say I have a so-called secret plan to take the country out of the EU if the vote is 'no.' They are lying with the full knowledge of that fact."

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The hastily called referendum is based on creditor reform proposals made last week as part of a negotiation with the Greek government. But they were later updated and are now no longer on the table as the European part of Greece's bailout program expired at midnight Tuesday.

Eurozone finance ministers were to discuss Greece's new offer made Tuesday night. Tsipras sent a letter to creditors saying his government was prepared to accept their proposals, subject to certain amendments.

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Some European countries — including Germany, the largest single contributor to Greece's bailout — said the proposal wasn't good enough and that a deal remained impossible in any case before the referendum.

"We will wait for the referendum," Chancellor Angela Merkel told the German Parliament. "There can be no negotiations on a new aid program before the referendum."

But French President Francois Hollande urged an accord before then. Hollande said it was the responsibility of other countries that use the shared currency to keep Greece in the eurozone.