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ATHENS — Greek police threw stun grenades and scuffled with protesters in central Athens on Friday, as a rally got under way in support of a 'No' vote in a Sunday referendum on whether to endorse an aid deal with creditors.
The scuffles involved a few dozen people, many dressed in black and wearing helmets but quickly appeared to calm.
Greeks took to the streets in the tens of thousands on Friday in rival rallies that laid bare the deep divide heading into a referendum that may decide the country’s future in Europe’s single currency.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, elected in January on a promise to end six years of austerity, extolled a packed Syntagma square in central Athens to spurn the tough terms of an aid deal offered by international creditors to keep the country afloat.
His European partners say a ‘No’ vote will jeopardize Greece’s membership of the euro.
Tsipras says they are bluffing, fearing the fallout for Europe and the global economy. But a ‘Yes’ vote may bring him down, ushering in a new period of political instability for a country reeling from five days of shuttered banks and rationed cash withdrawals.
Framing Sunday’s ballot as a battle for democracy, freedom and European values, the 40-year-old left-wing leader told Greeks to "turn your backs on those who terrorize you daily."
"On Sunday, we are not just deciding that we are staying in Europe, but that we are deciding to live with dignity in Europe," he told the crowd of at least 50,000.
His opponents accuse Tsipras of gambling Greece’s future with a rapid-fire plebiscite that a major European rights watchdog says falls short of international standards of fairness.