Reports say Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou has told his Cabinet he will not resign his post, but is prepared to drop a plan for a nationwide referendum on a European Union bailout package.
Officials say Papandreou made the comments during an emergency Cabinet meeting Thursday, after the opposition said they would support the bailout deal. The prime minister said if he had the opposition’s backing on the deal, there was no need to hold a referendum. He said the referendum was never an end in itself.
The plan to let Greeks vote on the bailout was controversial because the loan package includes deeply unpopular austerity measures.
European leaders have warned Greece that if it does not follow the terms of the bailout package, it will get no more EU funding.
Earlier Thursday, Greek opposition leader Antonis Samaras called for the creation of a transition government to prepare for early elections, rather than allow Papandreou to hold the referendum.
Papandreou had called for the referendum and a vote of confidence in order to help quell public backlash against deeply unpopular austerity measures that are part of the bailout package. He called the emergency Cabinet meeting, as lawmakers in his ruling Socialist party threatened to abandon his government over his controversial referendum plan.
At least one member of the ruling PASOK party, lawmaker Eva Kaili, said she would not support him in the vote, leaving the prime minister with only a one-seat majority in the 300-member parliament.
Another socialist lawmaker, Dimitris Lintzeris, said Thursday that Papandreou is “history,” and called for a national unity government to be formed.
Earlier in the day, Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos broke ranks with Papandreou on the referendum proposal, saying Greece’s “historic” status in the eurozone should not be determined by a popular vote.
Papandreou said Wednesday that Greece’s future in the eurozone is at stake, but he said he was confident that the citizens of Greece would choose to remain in the eurozone.
On the street, some Greek citizens say they want the euro, but they fear future hardships.
“I believe we must stay in the euro even though the European Union is not a saint. It followed a policy that was in the interest of the large political powers and that is why Greece is having problems, but I believe it provides a support for the country,” said university student Christos.
“I prefer we stay in the euro because we will be destroyed otherwise. They are trying to destroy us but I hope they don’t succeed. I think they [the government] should go home,” said Greek citizen Amalia Pestika.
“There is no other solution. Is there any other solution than the euro? When we will be paying for gas in drachmas what will we do? They [the government] have no idea what they are doing unfortunately,” said another citizen, Despoina Goltsou.
“Greece must stay in the euro, but Papandreou must resign,” another person said.
“Since we entered the European Union, I see that instead of having a better life, things are getting worse and I don’t know where we will end up. There are many vested interests outside and inside Greece, and I don’t know how this will end. I don’t know from now on what is best for us,” said a frustrated Spiros Stelatos.