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Wary Greeks head back to polls

Eurozone future could be at stake

ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/GETTYIMAGES

Supporters of New Democracy party leader Antonis Samaras attended a rally in central Athens on Friday, ahead of a momentous election that could decide whether Greece stays in the eurozone. Party leaders were scrambling to reassure angry voters they can bank on the single currency.

ATHENS - At the dinner table, in the coffee shop, on the street corner, the one constant as Greeks prepare to vote once again is concern. Depending on the outcome of Sunday’s election, Greece could be forced out of the European joint currency, with potentially catastrophic consequences for the global economy.

“Everyone now is in a dilemma, just like me. . . . We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. The future is uncertain now,’’ said Paraskevi Thoma, an unemployed Athens beautician struggling to support a 5-year-old son and 6-month-old twins.

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Greeks cast their ballots Sunday for the second time in six weeks, after May 6 elections left no party with enough seats in Parliament to form a government and coalition talks collapsed.

The debt-ridden country’s two-year financial crisis has left much of the nation in tatters, tearing at its social fabric. Hospitals have run out of supplies, suicides have been on the increase, and unemployment has skyrocketed above 22 percent as tens of thousands of businesses shut down.

The protracted crisis has also overturned Greece’s political scene, hammering the two parties that have dominated for decades and that Greeks blame for sending their country from boom to bust in just a few years.

“We want something better for the country and for ourselves, but we don’t know who to vote for,’’ Thoma said. “With what criteria should we vote? Whoever you vote for I don’t believe that the day after it’ll be paradise and we’ll be eating with golden spoons. . . . I don’t expect it, no matter who wins.’’

If Greeks reject the strict austerity measures taken in return for billions of euros in rescue loans from other European countries and the International Monetary Fund, they could be forced out of the euro, which in turn probably would drag down other financially troubled countries and rip apart the euro itself.

“In these elections, the survival of the Greek economy and its integration in Europe is at stake,’’ said Dimitris Sotiropoulos, associate professor of political science at Athens University. “There’s nothing more and nothing less to it.’’

The last opinion polls published before a two-week preelection ban showed the antiausterity radical left Syriza Party neck-and-neck with the conservative New Democracy Party. Neither was projected to win enough votes to form a government alone, leaving a coalition as the only option to avoid yet another election.

While the publication of polls in the two weeks before the vote is barred by law, the Athens Stock Exchange soared to close up 10 percent Thursday on rumors that New Democracy might be pulling ahead. But with a sizable chunk of the electorate undecided until the last minute, the result could go either way.

Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras, a 37-year-old former student activist, has pledged to rip up Greece’s international bailout agreement and repeal the strict austerity measures the previous governments took in return for the loans.

Riding high on antiausterity sentiment and anger with Greece’s political establishment, his party - a coalition of 12 small and often fringe left-wing groups - came a surprise second on May 6 behind New Democracy. He won nearly 17 percent of the vote, quadrupling his support since the 2009 elections.

Tsipras’ pledges, which include canceling planned privatizations, nationalizing banks, and rolling back cuts to minimum wages and pensions, have horrified European leaders as well as many Greeks. Although he insists he can persuade other European nations that it is in their interests to keep Greece within the euro, his political opponents have accused him of being out of touch with reality, saying his policies will force Greece out of the euro and lead to mass poverty for years to come.

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