Papandreou Announces Referendum On E.U. Bailout

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The eurozone has been thrown into chaos once again. European leaders thought they had finally unified behind a plan to deal with their debt crisis. Then, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou called for a national referendum on the agreement. How is the Greek public responding to the prime minister's challenge: a referendum to choose between Europe and default?

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The Eurozone has been thrown into chaos once again. European leaders thought they had finally unified behind a plan to deal with their debt crisis. But then late yesterday, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou called for a national referendum on the agreement. In a moment, we'll hear how other European leaders are reacting.

But first, to Athens where, as Joanna Kakissis reports, even the prime minister's own supporters are rebelling against him.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: When Papandreou announced his plans for the referendum late last night, he framed it in terms of democracy in action.

PRIME MINISTER GEORGE PAPANDREOU: (Through translator) This is an issue that not only pertains to the present, but also the future and this country's standing in the world. In these situations, the citizen has the biggest role and the first word.

KAKISSIS: Most Greeks are fiercely opposed to austerity measures that Papandreou's government has been forced to implement in exchange for billions in international bailout loans. At anti-austerity demonstrations, some protestors have likened Papandreou's government to a dictatorship. So, a referendum was supposed to let Greeks decide the fate of the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYPING)

KAKISSIS: At a downtown office in Athens, Elias Demian, an environmental researcher, is typing a report. But he can't concentrate. He's terrified Europe is going to throw Greece out of the Eurozone.

ELIAS DEMIAN: Actually, it's the first time, for me at least, that I'm thinking that Greece is in danger. I mean, the prime reason, it's jeopardizing our position in the E.U. at the moment. Our image is going to be like totally irresponsible in front of our European fellows.

KAKISSIS: His friend Nikos Paratsiokos is also angry at the prime minister.

NIKOS PARATSIOKOS: I think he has caused a mess with his decision. Many people believe that elections is better thing. Also, many people are wondering what will be referendum about, what will be the main question that people will come to decide.

KAKISSIS: Some government leaders want to offer Greeks a choice. Should they stay in Europe and stick with the bailout or should they get out of the Eurozone and return to the drachma? But main opposition leader, Antonis Samaras, says it's nothing more than blackmail.

ANTONIS SAMARAS: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: In an attempt to save himself, Samaras said, Mr. Papandreou has put us in a decisive dilemma that endangers our future and our position in Europe. Samaras leads the conservative New Democracy Party, which has fought Papandreou's socialist PASOK Party on nearly every decision during the debt crisis. Samaras is calling for snap elections. And a number of his parliamentary deputies have abandoned him.

But the prime minister's spokesman insists that the government will win a confidence vote scheduled for Friday. Papandreou might have good intentions, says Elias Demian, the environmental researcher. But he underestimated how divided and uninformed Greeks are about the debt crisis.

DEMIAN: Imagine that there's a big percentage of our population that do not know the details of the crisis, the economic details, the social details, what each clause of the agreement means. And if you know less of something, you cannot - how can you have a fair point to say?

KAKISSIS: Right now, he says, Greeks are just afraid. They may hate austerity, but they also desperately want someone to sort out the biggest crisis of their lives.

For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens.

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