Emergency talks as Grexit looms

Greek government ministers applauded the referendum vote. Photo: AAP

Greek government ministers applauded the referendum vote. Photo: AAP

Greeks are queuing to withdraw their pensions and savings in cash as Greece’s financial woes approach a threshold with no answer in sight.

Greek banks have begun limiting daily withdrawals to between 3000 and 5000 euros as 500 of the nation’s 7000 ATMs have already run out of cash.

It’s just the latest in a string of bad news stories that have come out of Greece’s ongoing debt crisis since the hard-left Syriza party took office.

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Greece is hurtling towards default and a possible euro exit after Europe responded to the leftist government’s announcement of a surprise referendum by refusing to extend Athens’s desperately needed bailout.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has met with resistance from creditors. Photo: AAP

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has met with resistance from creditors. Photo: AAP

In Brussels, Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis had asked eurozone colleagues to stretch the aid plan for a few days past its June 30 expiry date and until after the July 5 referendum vote on a creditor reform plan, but they unanimously rejected his appeal.

The move leaves debt-laden Athens struggling to meet a crucial 1.5 billion euro IMF debt payment on Tuesday, putting Greece’s place in the single currency at risk and threatening the entire post-war European project.

“The Greek government has broken off the process, has rejected the reform proposal and is now putting the question in a negative way to the Greek people, which is an unfair way of putting the question,” Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem told a press conference.

“Given that situation, I think we might conclude that however regretful, the program will expire Tuesday night,” the Dutch minister said.

Underscoring Greece’s perilous position in the currency union, Mr Dijsselbloem said the other 18 eurozone finance ministers would now hold fresh talks without Greece present to discuss the “consequences” and “prepare for what’s needed to ensure the stability of eurozone remains at its high level.”

A Eurogroup statement issued after the meeting said it was “supported by all members … except the Greek member.”

Eurozone will fight danger of contagion: Germany

The eurozone will do all it can to fight the risk of financial contagion from Greece after its creditors refused to extend its bailout, German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has said.

“We will do everything to fight against any possible danger of contagion,” Mr Schaeuble said after eurozone finance ministers met without their Greek counterpart for emergency talks in Brussels.

Greece will “enter acute difficulties in the coming days”, he said, referring to scenes of Greeks lining up to cash machines to withdraw their deposits.

However the pro-austerity Mr Schaeuble said that despite the failed talks and looming default, Greece was a full member of the single currency zone.

“Greece remains a member of the eurozone and Greece remains part of Europe,” he said.

Other ministers said risks for contagion were lower since the worst days of the crisis, but that outside of a bailout program, Greece would require special attention.

“Step one is to try to help Greece in many different ways. We understand what difficulties Greeks will have to go through,” Finnish finance minister Alexander Stubb said.

Fears referendum will trigger ‘propaganda of fear’

The referendum, planned for July 5, was approved by at least 179 deputies out of a total of 300 lawmakers on Saturday night.

In a speech prior to the vote, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras said he was confident that “the Greek people will say an emphatic no to the ultimatum” by the country’s EU-IMF creditors, but “a big yes to European solidarity”.

He also expressed confidence that “in the aftermath of this proud no, the negotiating power of the country [with the country’s creditors] will be strengthened”.

“The creditors have not sought our approval but have asked for us to abandon our dignity. We must refuse,” the prime minister said.

He said the refusal of Greek negotiators to consider Athens’ “mutually beneficial” proposals indicates a desire to “punish a different voice in Europe” and said he feared the announcement of the referendum would trigger “a propaganda of fear that will culminate next Sunday”, the day of the proposed referendum.

The outspoken Mr Varoufakis had warned that the decision on whether to go ahead with the referendum could permanently damage the single currency, formed in a bid to bring unity to a once fragmented continent.

But he said he was “still fighting” for a deal, and insisted the radical Syriza government would “honour the verdict of the Greek people” in the referendum.

Greece’s negotiations with its international creditors have dragged on since January, when Mr Tsipras’s Syriza party first took power.

It won on a promise to end austerity after two EU-IMF bailout programs since 2010, worth 240 billion euros.

Syriza has repeatedly refused to make cuts to pensions and changes to the VAT system demanded by Greece’s bailout monitors: the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Greek government ministers applauded the referendum vote. Photo: AAP

Greek government ministers applauded the referendum vote. Photo: AAP

A week of intensive talks in Brussels ended with Greece’s creditors on Friday offering Athens a five-month, 12-billion-euro ($13.4-billion) extension of its rescue program, on the condition it committed to fresh reforms.

Mr Schaeuble said the Greek government had “ended the negotiations unilaterally” and rejected that offer.

Long lines of people have queued at cash machines in Greece after the referendum announcement by Mr Tsipras, amid fears of a bank run and possible capital controls.

The European Central Bank will now play a crucial role in ensuring Greece’s banks have the cash to open on Monday, and two top Tsipras aides were meeting ECB head Mario Draghi in Brussels on Saturday.

The governing council of the ECB was also reported to be meeting on Sunday, and was “closely monitoring developments”, the bank said.

Mr Draghi has been keeping the Greek banking system alive with near-daily cash infusions as it is frozen out of the capital markets.

The Eurogroup will now discuss worst case scenarios, ranging from a Greek default next week to a possible exit from the eurozone and even, as suggested by the Greek central bank, the 28-nation European Union.

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