Tsipras says 'no' vote will help talks but 'yes' will prompt political developments

TAGS: Euro

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras indicated on Monday that Greece was still open to an agreement with creditors, “even at the 11th hour,” made it all but clear that a payment due on Tuesday to the International Monetary Fund would not be paid and suggested that he would step aside in the event of a yes vote in Sunday’s referendum on creditors’ proposals to Greece.

In a live interview on state television ERT, Tsipras also indicated that he was prepared to participate in a debate with opposition party leaders ahead of Sunday’s plebiscite.

In the case of a yes vote in the referendum, Tsipras said he “would act in line with the constitution,” apparently hinting at resignation or a unity government.

Asked whether Greece would make a 1.6-billion-euro debt repayment to the IMF today, Tsipras did not explicitly rule it out but said it could only be done in the event of a deal on Monday night.

Despite the impasse with creditors, Tsipras said Greece was “still at the table of talks,” noting that the fiscal differences between the two sides are small and expressing his conviction that a deal can be reached, even at the last minute. Although no negotiations were under way as such, he said he was in contact with European leaders, including European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Parliament President Martin Schulz.

As for Greek banks, which closed on Monday with capital controls on ATMs, he said they would reopen “when the European Central Bank restores liquidity.”

Tsipras’s appearance on ERT, the public broadcaster that his government reopened, came as the difficulties from the closure of banks and introduction of capital controls became more visible. Thousands of pensioners who were due to receive their retirement pay on Monday were unable to collect the payments due to the restrictions in place. The government said that a number of bank branches will open in due course so that only pensioners, many of whom do not have cash cards or do not know how to use them, will be served.

However, the extent of the government’s difficulties was also evident from the fact that it continued to look on Monday for another 300 million euros that it needs to complete this month’s pension payments. In his interview, Tsipras asked pensioners to be patient and stressed that the lenders’ measures would have led to deep pension cuts.

Tsipras insisted that he wants to keep Greece in the euro but comments from Energy Minister Panayiotis Lafazanis on Monday suggested that the coalition has no reservations about leaving the single currency if necessary.

“Greece is not a hostage, nor is it trapped,” he said. “Instead... it has many paths to follow in order to confront those who want to enforce neo-colonial shackles on our country. A strong no from the Greek people on Sunday will be above all a big yes to an independent and sovereign Greece.”

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who was in Brussels on Monday for an EU-China summit, said Beijing wants to see Greece stay in the eurozone.

“Whether Greece stays within the euro is not only a question that concerns Europe, but also concerns China and Europe,” he said. “In addition, this is also something that concerns world financial stability and economic recovery.”

Li said China is in favor of a united and prosperous EU, as well as a strong euro.

“That is why China wants to see Greece stay in the euro, stay in the eurozone, and we urge relevant creditors to reach an agreement with the Greek government at an early time,” the Chinese premier said.