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In Crucial Referendum, Greeks Reject Bailout Proposal


Greek voters said no, casting their ballots today in a historic referendum on the country's economic future. The Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called a surprise vote to ask his country whether they'd accept a bailout from European leaders that he thinks would be to oppressive. The concern now is that the no vote could send Greece crashing out of the euro zone and into an even worse recession. NPR's Chris Arnold's in Athens and joins us now. Chris, what exactly have the Greek voters said no to?

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: Well, this vote is being thought of as a rejection of the austerity measures, basically, that Germany and other more powerful European countries than Greece have insisted that - OK, we're going to give Greece a bailout. Its economy's in very big trouble. It has been for years, ever since the financial crisis hit back in 2008.

But along with bailout money to try to help Greece, Europe has has insisted that Greek cut pensions, raise taxes, pay back some of the bailout money at very regular intervals. A lot of Greeks are like, look, this has just stifled our economy too much. We can't grow. This is just an albatross around our neck, if you will. And they're saying enough. And the word no, interestingly enough - it's pronounced ochi Greek, and it's written everywhere. You see it on the walls around Athens - around Athens, even out on the islands. And we spoke to some voters today. The first people, I think, we're going to hear from were voting no.

Did you vote yes or no?



UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Greek). It was a no - a clear no.

ARNOLD: And that was Panagiotis Psarros. He voted in Athens earlier today.

PSARROS: (Speaking Greek).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: He says that by saying no, it's just another way to put more pressure on the European Union help us and be more moderate on the measures.

ARNOLD: So you can hear on the no side, this was seen as a strategic sort of bargaining step - you know, tough negotiating. Let's say no to Europe and demand a better deal.

RATH: And can you explain the people who voted yes - what they were worried about?

ARNOLD: Right, and this is interesting, I mean, they had a totally different interpretation of what this vote means, and we're going to hear next from some people who voted yes. There're very worried that a no vote is going to start a chain of events that's going to push Greece out of the euro zone, and that's going to be very damaging to the country. Here's some people that voted yes.

MARIA SKOKOU: Sometimes, I'm very sad. I'm very, very worried, and I am extremely angry - extremely angry.

ARNOLD: That was Maria Skokou. She's a 41-year-old psychiatrist, and she voted with her mother. She's upset, again, because she just feels like events have now been set in motion that are going to be very bad for Greece.

RATH: Is there any indication when banks are going to reopen?

ARNOLD: Well, that's an interesting question. Business owners certainly across the country really want the banks to open. For average people, well - they could take out 50, 60 euro a day. They can survive. If you're running a business and you need to buy inventory or buy produce for your shop, I mean, you just can't get the money do it. And that's very unclear. Even now that the votes have been cast, that's still a very open question.

RATH: Quickly, Chris, do you think this is the beginning of Greece's exit from the euro zone?

ARNOLD: There's really no way to know. There are these two camps, like we just heard from. And we'll have to wait and see what the leaders of Europe do with this very powerful message it looks like we're getting from the people of Greece.

RATH: NPR's Chris Arnold in Athens. Chris, thanks very much.

ARNOLD: Happy to do it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR correspondent Chris Arnold is based in Boston. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. He joined NPR in 1996 and was based in San Francisco before moving to Boston in 2001.