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Greeks defy Europe with overwhelming referendum 'No'

If confirmed, the result will also deliver a hammer blow to the EU’s grand single currency project.

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis casts his ballot during the Greek referendum in Athens, on 5 July, 2015. Greece voted in a tightly fought referendum that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said will determine its destiny in the eurozone, as the EU country teetered on the brink of financial collapse. Picture: AFP.

ATHENS - Greeks voted overwhelmingly "No" on Sunday in a historic bailout referendum, partial results showed, defying warnings from across Europe that rejecting new austerity terms for fresh financial aid would set their country on a path out of the euro.

With nearly a fifth of the votes counted, official figures showed 60.4 percent of Greeks on course to reject a bailout offer from creditors that was the official issue of the ballot. The figures showed the Yes vote drew 40.1 percent. An official projection of the final result is expected at 18h00 local time.

Officials from the Greek government, which had argued that a 'No' vote would strengthen its hand to secure a better deal from international creditors after months of wrangling, immediately said they would try to restart talks with European partners.

"The negotiations which will start must be concluded very soon, even within 48 hours," government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis told Greek television. "We will undertake every effort to seal it soon."

Euclid Tsakalotos, the government's chief negotiator said talks could restart as early as Sunday evening.

Many of Athens' partners have warned over the past week that a 'No' vote would mean cutting bridges with Europe and driving Greece's crippled financial system into outright bankruptcy, dramatically worsening the country's 5-year-long depression.

If confirmed, the result would also deliver a hammer blow to the European Union's grand single currency project. Intended to be permanent and unbreakable when it was created 15 years ago, the euro zone could now be on the point of losing its first member with the risk of further unravelling to come.

"I believe such a result can be used as a strong negotiating tool so that Europeans can understand that we are not a colony," said Nefeli Dimou, a 23-year-old student in Athens.

Nikos Filis, parliamentary spokesman for the ruling Syriza party said the result of the opinion polls would allow the government to move ahead quickly to reach a deal with creditors.

"I think this is guidance for the government," he said after the polls came out.

Athens' partners have warned over the past week that a 'No' vote would mean cutting bridges with Europe and driving Greece's crippled financial system into outright bankruptcy, dramatically worsening the country's 5-year-long depression.

If confirmed, the result will also deliver a hammer blow to the European Union's grand single currency project. Intended to be permanent and unbreakable when it was created 15 years ago, the euro zone could now be on the point of losing its first member with the risk of further unravelling to come.

Greek banks, which have been closed all week and rationing withdrawals from cash machines, are expected to run out of money within days unless the European Central Bank provides an emergency lifeline.

However central bankers warned before the vote that a 'No' would make it almost impossible for the ECB to turn on the taps, leaving the Greek financial system without funds and facing imminent collapse.

A 'No' vote would leave Greece and the euro zone in uncharted waters. Unable to borrow money on capital markets, Greece has one of the world's highest levels of public debt. The International Monetary Fund warned last week that it would need massive debt relief and €50 billion in fresh funds.

Greece's leftwing government called the referendum only a week ago after it rejected the tough terms offered by international creditors as the price for releasing billions of euros in bailout funds.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras denounced the bailout terms as "blackmail" and declared that a 'No' vote would strengthen the government's hand to get a better deal that would allow the banks to re-open this week.

A succession of European leaders and policy makers warned, however, that the bailout terms were no longer on the table. They said the vote was now effectively about whether Greeks wanted to remain in the euro or return to the drachma.

Opinion polls show a large majority of Greeks want to remain in the euro. But, exhausted and resentful after years of austerity cuts imposed under successive bailout programmes, many appear to have shrugged off the warnings of disaster, trusting that a deal can still be reached.

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