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Debt-stricken Greece faces crunch vote

Greece is making final preparations ahead of the country's most uncertain and critical parliamentary elections for decades which could throw the debt-stricken country's future in Europe into doubt and shake the wider eurozone.

A ban on campaigning took effect on Saturday, while a two-week ban on opinion polls has made the outcome of Sunday's vote impossible to call, analysts say, amid widespread anger directed against the country's main Socialist and conservative parties.

Greek newspapers have presented the vote as a choice between staying in the single currency area under stringent and unpopular austerity conditions demanded by the country's international creditors, or rejection of that 130bn-euro bailout plan and the accompanying risk of bankruptcy.

Greece is currently experiencing one of Europe's worst recessions since World War II and analysts say the country's economic collapse could undermine the future of the single currency.

"With the tough dilemma of staying in the euro or bankruptcy, voters head to the polls in the most crucial election showdown in recent decades," said the centre-left Ta Nea newspaper.

Proto Thema weekly said the vote was the most critical since the fall of a military dictatorship in 1974 while centre-left daily Ethnos said: "What we are being called to do is determine with our vote whether the country will have a future or not."

Hard to predict

Support for the major parties has been ravaged by anger over a crisis that has slashed wages and benefits, pushed unemployment to one of the highest levels in Europe and provoked a rash of suicides.

If the two parties fail to win a big enough majority to go into a coalition, they will have to persuade groups opposed to the bailout to join them in government, raising fears that Greece could renege on its promises to international lenders and head down a path towards bankruptcy and an exit from the euro.

Wolfgang Schaeuble, Germany's finance minister, said on Friday that Greece would have to "bear the consequences" if voters elected a government which did not honour agreements forged by the outgoing coalition government.

Schaeuble's remarks reflected wide concern in Europe about the consequences of the Greek vote but were likely to stoke the rage of Greeks who have burned German flags and carried effigies of Chancellor Angela Merkel in Nazi uniform because of Berlin's tough insistence on austerity.


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