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ATHENS — Greece votes on Sunday on whether to accept more austerity in exchange for international aid, in a high-stakes referendum likely to determine whether it leaves the euro-currency area after seven years of economic pain.
Staged against a backdrop of shuttered banks and threats of financial apocalypse, the vote is too close to call and may not produce the clear mandate for negotiations that Athens’ creditors seek.
Greeks are split on whether to accept an offer by creditors that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras calls a "humiliation" and is urging people to reject. Investors and European policymakers say a rejection would set Greece on a path out of the euro, destabilizing the global economy and financial markets.
"On Sunday we should all send a message of democracy and dignity to the world," Tsipras told tens of thousands of Greeks rallying for a 'no' vote before campaigning ended.
Voting on whether to accept more taxes and pension cuts would be divisive in any nation, even at the best of times.
In Greece, after five years of crippling austerity, have now suffered through a week of capital controls imposed to prevent the collapse of the nation's financial system.
Polls open at 7 a.m. local time (midnight E.T.) and shut at 7 p.m, with the first official projection of the result expected at 9 p.m.
Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis promised Greeks that European creditors would immediately have to grant Athens better terms, including massive debt relief and less austerity, if they voted 'No'. EU ministers and officials have warned that his pledge is a cruel illusion.
European creditors have said a 'Yes' vote will resurrect hopes of aid to Greece. But capital controls, and default last week to the IMF, have undermined Greece's economic standing and creditworthiness, so a new bailout package would probably entail harsher terms than those on offer even last week.
A 'No' vote would bring even greater uncertainty, and the prospect of a sudden financial collapse.