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Panicked Greeks Drain Cash From ATMs as Moment of Truth Nears in Debt Crisis

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced Saturday that he will seek to put the final terms of a bailout offer as a referendum before the Greek people.

by Tessa Stuart
Jun 27 2015, 5:50pm

Photo by Olivier Hoslet/EPA

Panicked Greek citizens lined up at ATMs around the country on Saturday following an early morning announcement by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that he would seek to put the final terms of a bailout offer as a referendum before the Greek people. Tsipras has said that the terms requested by the eurozone countries in exchange for an extension of the bailout would be too hard on the average Greek citizen.

"The Greek government was asked to accept a proposal that will add new unbearable weight to the shoulders of the Greek people, and that will undermine the recovery of the Greek economy and society — not only by fueling uncertainty, but also by further exacerbating social inequalities," Tsipras said Saturday morning.

The country's Parliament is expected to vote on the request for a referendum at midnight on Saturday.

Related: Greece Is Playing Economic Chicken With the Rest of Europe

People lined up to withdraw money from ATM of Greece's Alpha Bank in Athens on June 27. (Photo by Alexandros Vlachos/EPA)

Tsipras' unexpected announcement angered finance ministers of the 19 countries that hold Greece's debt. They have been locked in tense negotiations with the Greeks for the past five months. Greece had been scheduled to make a payment of 1.6 billion euros to those countries on Tuesday, June 30. If the referendum is approved, that payment will be deferred until the after the vote takes place on July 5. Greece asked to extend its bailout through that period, but Eurogroup head Jeroen Dijsselbloem said on Saturday that Greece's request had been rejected.

Related: Athens Wants Germany to Cough Up $300 Billion — as Repayment for the Nazi Occupation of Greece

If no agreement is reached between now and Wednesday when the bailout is set to expire, the European Central Bank will end the emergency line of credit it has extended to Greek banks. Without the credit to draw on, the banks are likely to collapse. If that happens, the Greek government would have to step in and print a new currency, effectively phasing out the euro. 

On Saturday morning, while the country's Parliament debated whether or not to approve the referendum, Bloomberg News reported that as many as 500 of 7,000 ATMs around the country had already run out of cash. Some institutions were imposing withdrawal limits, while others were concerned they would not be able to open on Monday without a cash infusion from the Bank of Greece. The bank itself promised in a statement issued Saturday that the flow of cash would not be interrupted.

Follow Tessa Stuart on Twitter: @tessastuart

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