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Greek Riot Police Use Stun Grenades on Protesters Ahead of Pivotal Bailout Vote

Police in Athens clashed with thousands of anti-austerity protesters that gathered to support for the government’s call to vote no in Sunday’s referendum.

by Tessa Stuart
Jul 4 2015, 3:00pm

Photo by Spyros Tsakiris/AP

With a contentious vote on whether to accept or reject the terms of a new bailout program set to take place in Greece on Sunday, tensions between protesters and police in Athens peaked on Friday. Video from the city's Syntagma Square showed police in riot gear fleeing on motorcycles under a barrage of bottles, signs, and other detritus, before returning to fire tear gas at OXI ("NO") protesters. Stun grenades were also used on the crowd.

Tens of thousands turned out for the demonstrations on Friday, the last day that political rallies could be held or public opinion polls taken ahead of Sunday's referendum. A poll published Friday in the Greek newspaper Ethnos showed a close race: 44.8 percent of respondents planned to vote yes in referendum; 43.4 percent said they would vote no.

Syntagma Square has been the stage all week for both sides arguing their cases. On Monday, thousands of "No" protestors filled the square calling for an end to austerity measures. (Employees of the Ministry of Finance, situated on the square, hung a banner reading "no to blackmail, no to austerity.") The next day, OXI protesters were outnumbered by demonstrators carrying NAI ("Yes") signs, urging others to vote to accept the deal that would ensure the country remains in the euro zone. 

Related: 'This Is Dignity?': Confusion and Anger Reign on the Streets of Athens

Friday's protests capped a tumultuous seven days for the country. Last Saturday, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras appeared on Greek television in the early hours of the morning to announce he would put the terms of bailout to a vote. The move surprised leaders of the the European Union, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the European Central Bank, the "troika" of creditors with whom Tsipras had spent the last five months attempting to negotiate a deal. Greece owes a total of 323 billion euros, with most of that debt (about 60 percent) held by the euro zone.

Related: Greeks Do Not Accept Shackles': Country Gears Up for a Major Referendum

Lines quickly formed at ATMs around the country following Tsipras announcement, as Greeks rushed to withdraw their savings. On Monday, Greek officials announced bank branches would remain closed all week to everyone except pensioners, who would be allowed to withdraw a maximum of 120 euros each.

One of the week's enduring images was of one such pensioner sitting on the ground outside of a bank, crying. The elderly man, identified by AFP as 77-year-old Giorgos Chatzifotiadis, collapsed in tears after his fourth attempt to withdraw his wife's pension failed. "I can not stand to see my country in this situation," Chatzifotiadis said.

Follow Tessa Stuart on Twitter: @tessastuart

Watch the latest VICE News dispatch, Yes or No? Greece Again on the Brink: Greek Debt Crisis (Dispatch 1):