TIME russia

Putin Wishes Obama a Happy Independence Day

Vladimir Putin
Sergei Karpukhin—AP In this May 28, 2015 file photo, Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a ceremony in the Kremlin in Moscow.

"Russian-American relations remain the most important factor of international stability and security"

Russian President Vladimir Putin has emphasized the importance of U.S.-Russian relations in a congratulatory July 4 message to President Barack Obama Saturday.

“In his message of congratulations, the Russian President noted that, despite the differences between the two countries, Russian-American relations remain the most important factor of international stability and security,” the Kremlin said, Reuters reports.

The message comes as diplomatic relations between the countries remain frayed, with Russia considering fresh sanctions against Western nations in the ongoing diplomatic feud over eastern Ukraine.

The head of Russia’s Security Council said Friday the country might target Finland over its refusal to issue a visa for the head of its lower house.

Nikolai Patrushev also singled out Washington for blame Friday for the protests in early 2014 that saw the pro-Moscow leadership driven from office. “The United States has initiated all those events in Ukraine. It has initiated a coup and put the current Ukrainian leadership in power,” he said, the AP reports.

Putin’s message, however, did not mention Ukraine or the Western sanctions imposed by the U.S. and others following the annexation of Crimea.

[Reuters]

TIME Tunisia

Tunisia President Declares State of Emergency

Tunisia Attack state emergency
Abdeljalil Bounhar—AP In this Sunday, June 28, 2015 file photo, a book and flowers lay at the scene of the attack in Sousse, Tunisia.

Says country is "not safe"

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisia’s president declared a state of emergency on Saturday in response to a second deadly attack on foreigners in three months, saying the country is “not safe” and risks collapse from further extremist attacks.

With a nationwide televised address, President Beji Caid Essebsi officially reintroduced urgent security measures for Tunisia that had been lifted in March 2014.

Essebsi said an “exceptional situation required exceptional measures” but pledged to respect freedom of expression.

The decision came just over a week after a gunman at the popular beach resort of Sousse attacked foreign tourists, killing 38 people. Essebsi said the state of emergency would last 30 days.

“Tunisia faces a very serious danger and it should take any possible measures to maintain security and safety,” he said. “As we see in other countries, if attacks like Sousse happen again, the country will collapse.”

Essebsi blamed the poor security in Libya for Tunisia’s problems, and the lack of international resolve in targeting the Islamic State group throughout the region. He said Tunisia specifically had been a target of the extremist group because it had a functioning, secular democracy.

The gunman behind the beach attack was killed by police and IS later claimed responsibility for the massacre, a blow to Tunisia’s tourism industry. Thirty of the 38 dead in the attack were British tourists.

In March, gunmen killed 22 people, again mostly tourists, at The National Bardo Museum outside Tunis.

Tunisia’s government has promised new laws to increase police powers and provide for harsher penalties for terrorism convictions. Immediately after the Sousse attack, the prime minister pledged to post armed guards at tourist sites and close mosques outside government control.

The country was under a state of emergency from January 2011, at the outbreak of the Arab Spring, until March 2014. It initially included a curfew and a ban on meetings of more than three people. Although those measures were relaxed, police and the military retained powers to intervene in unrest or for security reasons.

TIME Egypt

Egypt Marks Two Years Since Islamist Leader’s Ouster

Protest Giza Morsi death penalty
Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Egyptians, who call themselves as an anti-coup group, shout slogans and light flares as they protest against the coup regime and the mass death sentence decisions including Egypt's former president Mohamed Morsi, in Giza, Egypt on July 3, 2015.

Mohammed Morsi has since been sentenced to death

CAIRO (AP) — Two years to the day after the army overthrew Egypt’s Islamist president, the sounds coming from the mosque at Cairo’s Tahrir Square were sadly telling. At the focal point of Egypt’s upheavals, where authorities had hoped to stage celebrations, there was instead a prayer for the week’s dead, including soldiers cut down by militants in Sinai and the country’s chief prosecutor, assassinated by car bomb in the capital.

A sense of foreboding fills the air, with officials and media speaking of a state of war and urging national unity. President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has promised swift justice, which critics fear will mean a further step away from democracy. The Muslim Brotherhood, banned but unbowed, has upped the ante by calling for revolt against his rule. There is fear of even worse attacks of the kind that have become sadly familiar around the region.

It all presents a major challenge for el-Sissi, who as army chief led the takeover against Morsi two years ago, when millions filled the streets outraged over what they saw as Brotherhood misrule. He was later elected president, and the deal he has offered Egyptians — a curtailing of freedoms in exchange for stability and security — was one many seemed eagerly willing to embrace after several years of upheaval, in which the wider region has gone up in flames.

The first part of that equation has been carried out: the once-ruling Muslim Brotherhood has been largely crushed, thousands of its members and scores of leaders in jail and hundreds — including Morsi — handed the death penalty. Public protests are restricted, as is political activity. The media has been cowed amid an atmosphere that seems to equate criticism with disloyalty, and even many liberal activists are in jail. The result has been quieter streets, without protests that often turned to riots the past three years, and violence against Christian and Shiite minorities has lessened, though not stopped.

But stability, which for a time seemed attainable, seems to be in danger of unraveling. Militants affiliated with the regional Islamic State group have turned the northern part of the Sinai peninsula into a war zone, this week staging a brazen multi-pronged attack on army positions. Last month a key tourist site at Luxor was attacked, and on Tuesday chief prosecutor Hisham Barakat was assassinated while leaving his Cairo home for work.

Islamic radicals have claimed responsibility for the attacks. Authorities generally blame the Muslim Brotherhood itself, claiming its leaders issue orders from behind bars. Some believe the group’s denials while others don’t, and proof is scarce.

Michael Hanna, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Century Foundation, sees an “escalatory cycle … deteriorating security is eroding confidence in the capacity of the regime but at the same time also reinforcing hard-line trends in Egyptian society with respect of how to deal with these security threats.”

After the killing of Barakat, an angry el-Sissi went on TV to promise more efficient justice. He also suggested that the death penalties against the Islamist leaders would — contrary to expectations — actually be carried out.

Action will be taken within days “to enable us to execute the law, and bring justice as soon as possible,” he said. In a thinly veiled reference to jailed members of the Brotherhood, el-Sissi blamed the violence on those “issuing orders from behind bars,” and warned: “If there is a death sentence, it will be carried out.”

“We will stand in the face of the whole world, and fight the whole world,” el-Sissi said.

El-Sissi was alluding to the widespread global criticism of his heavy-handed rule — charges certainly also echoed by domestic opponents, not all of them Islamists.

On Friday, hundreds of mostly young Islamist demonstrators held several small protests in Cairo suburbs, carrying pro-Morsi signs and chanting “down with military rule.”

But el-Sissi also has wide support among Egyptians who have come to feel that liberal democracy is a bad fit in a society where almost half the people are illiterate and significant political forces would, if allowed, create a theocracy which would hardly be democratic.

“There’s progress and stability, we feel more order in the streets and the economy. But there’s nobody who’s not sad in Egypt these days because of the attacks in Sinai,” said Ibrahim Hamdy, a shopkeeper at a hardware store in a popular neighborhood of central Cairo, where Ramadan decorations hung from the buildings.

The crackdown on the Brotherhood and other opponents following Morsi’s ouster claimed hundreds of lives and landed thousands in jail. With most of the Brotherhood cadres imprisoned, youth supporters have been left leaderless. Some still protest several times a week in dilapidated Cairo suburbs and narrow alleyways, or restive rural areas off-limits to the state.

Unprecedented, coordinated attacks by militants including massive suicide bombings on the army in the Sinai Peninsula on Wednesday underlined the failure to stem an insurgency that blossomed in the area after Morsi’s overthrow, despite a heavy-handed crackdown.

The army said 17 soldiers and over 100 militants were killed, although before the release of its official statement, several senior security officials from multiple branches of Egypt’s forces in Sinai had said that scores more troops also died in the fighting. The same day, a special forces raid on a Cairo apartment killed nine leaders of the outlawed Brotherhood, which said they were innocents “murdered in cold blood,” and called for a “rebellion.”

Sinai’s main insurgent organization, which calls itself the Sinai Province of the Islamic State group, claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s assault. El-Sissi has yet to address the public about the attacks, but in the past he has described the Brotherhood as the root of all Islamic extremist groups. Just two days earlier, the assassination of Barakat was claimed by an obscure militant group.

The week’s events have pushed aside, for now, the talk of Egypt’s budding economic recovery. GDP is accelerating, foreign investment has jumped and the stock market is rising. Unemployment is down and the country’s credit ratings are up. Gas lines are gone and the country has capital to invest, thanks in part to a multi-billion dollar aid package from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Among Brotherhood’s supporters, calls to abandon non-violence are growing, deepening an internal split over the issue. Wednesday’s call for revolt may reinforce those urging the use of force.

Security expert H.A. Hellyer said it was not inevitable but “increasingly likely” that the call will result in “a more militant and insurgency-style route.” Hellyer, of London’s Royal United Services Institute, said such calls would find “a much more receptive audience against the backdrop of the political realities in Egypt and the crackdown.”

The events do not bode well for attempts to support democracy, form a more pluralistic society, or even elect a parliament, which el-Sissi had said would come at the end of the year.

Those elections, whenever they take place, are likely to produce a strongly pro-el-Sissi legislature. Islamists, in various forms, may still have a solid base of support but are likely to largely boycott — something that allowed el-Sissi to easily win election a year ago. The existing non-Islamic parties, an assortment of nationalists and liberals, were disorganized and hapless in opposition to Morsi and largely back el-Sissi now.

TIME Greece

Greek Referendum Could Threaten Government, Analysts Say

Athens greece referendum
Socrates Baltagiannis—AP A woman with stickers on her hands that say NO during a demonstration at Sunday's referendum in Athens on July 3, 2015.

No matter which way the vote goes

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Whether Greeks decide in Sunday’s referendum to accept their lenders’ bailout deal or reject it, the government’s hold on power may be shakier than its brash prime minister has calculated, analysts say.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is banking on fellow Greeks to deliver a resounding “no” in the popular vote that he believes will give him strong leverage in his negotiations with creditors to swing a softer bailout deal for a country ravaged by years of harsh austerity, deep recession and crushing poverty.

A win for the No campaign, the reasoning goes, could also furnish Tsipras with an endorsement for his five-month rule and allow his government to consolidate — and extend — its grip on power.

That may not be the case, analysts say, since a “no” vote could still plunge Tsipras’ position into uncertainty if negotiations drag on with lenders who see such the outcome as a Greek snub of the euro. Without a quick deal, banks could stay shuttered to keep their reserves from running dry.

“A deteriorating import-dependent economy will provoke a rapid decline in public support for the government and fresh elections may become inevitable, but this will take time,” said Dimitri Sotiropoulos, political science professor at the University of Athens.

A win for the Yes campaign could cast Tsipras’ public mandate in doubt and force him to broaden his coalition government, political analyst George Sefertzis said. The new government may have Tsipras’ radical left Syriza party at its core, but the cabinet’s composition could change to include “respected personalities who can be recruited to fill that role.”

Syriza emerged from the political fringes in January as Greek voters sought an alternative to what they saw as a bankrupt political establishment they blame for opening the door to half a decade of punishing salary and pension rollbacks, steep job cuts and hefty taxes.

Just a few years ago, the country’s two main political forces, the right-wing New Democracy and the socialist PASOK parties, commanded some 80 percent of the vote between them. Now, with many Greeks seeing them as kowtowing to the lenders’ diktats, their support was dwindled.

Tsipras’ youth, unorthodox style and pledges to fight the good fight for the country’s poorest endeared him to many and persuaded some that he could take on the institutional behemoths that decide the economic fate of entire nations.

But months of talks without real results have eroded the Syriza-led government’s credibility in the eyes of Europe’s power circles.

“This government doesn’t trust the institutions of the EU and the IMF, and those institutions trust the Greek government even less,” said Sotiropoulos.

Tsipras’s gambit appears to rest on whether he can clinch a deal quickly so that banks can reopen and get money flowing to businesses again. Tsipras told private TV station Antenna Thursday that he sees a deal with creditors emerging “within 48 hours” after the referendum.

His finance minister, Yianis Varoufakis, told Ireland’s RTE radio Friday that an agreement with creditors “is more or less done” and that European officials had put forward “very decent proposals” this week.

But Greece’s creditors — the European Union and the International Monetary Fund — are unlikely to cave in on demands for tough austerity measures, said Sotiropoulos.

The creditors may offer a vague pledge to consider restructuring Greece’s crushing debt, but that probably won’t happen until the government faithfully implements the terms of the deal for at least 12 to 18 months, said Sotiropoulos.

“A ‘no’ win would be a Pyrrhic victory for the Greek government. You can’t survive on Pyrrhic victories because you need funds to keep the country running,” he said.

Sefertzis said Tsipras’ political decline may come much faster even with a referendum “no” in his pocket as he would have little time to get to keep the country from economic collapse.

With an economy in tatters, Tsipras’ hold on power would be a “matter of days rather than weeks,” said Sefertzis.

The latest opinion polls put the No and Yes camps in a dead heat as divisions have emerged even within the Greek government. A lawmaker from its right-wing junior coalition partner was kicked out for backing a “yes” vote.

Writing in the liberal daily “Ta Nea,” pollster Elias Nikolakopoulos said any predictions about the outcome on Sunday “are exceedingly precarious” because party allegiances in this vote are fluid.

Speaking on Ireland’s RTE radio, Varoufakis even suggested that a “yes” win is possible, albeit by a narrow margin. But even then, he insisted his party would come out “stronger and united.”

“Syriza will remain the only credible party in the parliament, our young leader will remain the only credible leader of this nation,” Varoufakis said.

There may be credence to that. Sotiropoulos said in case of a “yes” win, Syriza could remain part of any new national unity government given its large support.

He said it would make sense for Greece’s creditors to compensate the country if a “yes” vote prevails by easing austerity, earmarking more developments funds and finding ways to alleviate the debt burden without necessarily resorting to write-offs.

TIME Iran

Iran’s Zarif Says They Have ‘Never Been Closer’ to a Deal

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif expressed optimism that a deal could be reached in talks between Iran and six world powers over the country’s nuclear program, he said in a YouTube video shot from the Palais Coburg where marathon negotiations have been taking place.

“At this eleventh hours, despite differences that remain, we have never been closer to a lasting outcome,” said Zarif in English. “Getting to yes requires the courage to compromise, the self confidence to be flexible, the maturity to be reasonable, the wisdom to set aside illusions and the audacity to break old habits.”

Though Zarif did not name his negotiating partners—the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, China and Russia—his choice of vocabulary was clearly aimed at the United States. With his use of the words “audacity” and later in the four-minute statement, “hope.” The title of President Obama’s second book was The Audacity of Hope.

Iranians are known for their careful and symbolic choice of language. Zarif ended his remarks with a quote from Kay Khosrow, a revered king and character in the Shahnameh, the Persian-speaking world’s national epic written around 1010 A.D. by nobleman Abol-Qasem Ferdowsi Tusi: “Be relentless in striving for the cause of good / Bring the spring, you must / Banish the winter, you should.”

Those lines were cited by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in his first address to the U.N. General Assembly in September 2013 and again later tweeted by Rouhani as a reference to turning a page and remaking the dawn of a new era.

This is not the first time Zarif, who spent five years from 2002 in New York as Iran’s United Nations representative, has taken to YouTube to address the West directly in English. In November 2013, he defended Iran’s nuclear program on a similar YouTube video—replete with the same piano muzak opening and closing.

Interestingly, Zarif did not focus his remarks solely on the talks being held by the so-called P5+1, for the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. He also mentioned the importance of building strong relationships to fight violent extremism, a clear reference to ISIS in Iraq and Syria. “Our common threat today is the growing menace of violent extremism and outright barbarism,” Zarif said.

The talks, which include Secretary of State John Kerry, were due to end on June 30, but were extended until July 7 to allow for more negotiations. Zarif’s remarks come as some perceived a hardening of Iran’s position given remarks by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last week demanding the end to bruising economic sanctions by the six world powers before Iran begin to dismantle its nuclear infrastructure.

TIME France

France Says No to WikiLeaks Founder’s Bid for Asylum

The country won't take Julian Assange

(PARIS) — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has failed in a bid to win asylum in France.

Assange wrote a letter to French President Francois Hollande published in Le Monde on Friday, appealing to France’s history as a beacon for the repressed. He noted that WikiLeaks recently revealed that the U.S. National Security Agency spied on Hollande and his two predecessors and leading French companies.

Hollande quickly said “no.” In a statement, his office noted that Assange is under a European arrest warrant and his life is not in imminent danger.

The exchange came after prominent French voices, including soccer legend Eric Cantona and economist Thomas Piketty, appealed for France to grant haven to Assange and NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

French Justice Minister Christine Taubira suggested in a televised interview last week that she would be open to the idea.

But Hollande’s statement Friday made it clear that won’t happen. “A deep examination found that given the judicial elements and the material situation of Mr. Assange, France cannot follow through on his request,” he said.

Assange has spent three years in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning about alleged sexual assaults. Assange denies the allegations and believes extradition to Sweden would be the first step in efforts to send him for prosecution in the U.S.

He and his group angered the U.S. government by publishing hundreds of thousands of secret military and diplomatic documents.

In his letter to Hollande, he said that the mother of his youngest child is French. He said he is restricted to a space of 5.5 square meters, lacking access to “fresh air, sun … as well as any possibility to go to a hospital,” and noted that police say round-the-clock surveillance of him has cost 11.1 million pounds ($17.6 million).

TIME Greece

Greek Voters Confused by Referendum Wording as Vote Nears

People don't know what they're voting for

(ATHENS, Greece) — Greek voters facing a momentous vote Sunday that may determine the country’s future in Europe can be forgiven for scratching their heads when they read the ballot question that has to be marked with a “yes” or a “no.”

The question does not address the future of the euro currency — which many believe is at stake — or the future of Greece’s relationship with the 28-nation European Union.

Instead, it asks the following:

“Should the plan of agreement, which was submitted by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund in the Eurogroup of 25.06.2015 and is comprised of two parts that constitute their unified proposal be accepted?

The first document is entitled “Reforms For The Completion Of The Current Program And Beyond” and the second “Preliminary Debt Sustainability Analysis.”

To complicate matters, the offer being voted on is no longer on the table, having been linked to a bailout package that expired earlier this week, and it is clear that many Greeks have not read the complex documents referred to.

Critics point out that many people in rural villages with little or no Internet access will not find an easy way to access the documents. Others without special training may find them overly technical and difficult to comprehend.

One person with training, a 21-year-old law student, said she understood the question and had studied the supporting documents, including the tax sections, before deciding to vote “no.” She said Greeks comprehend that the referendum is not just about the matters spelled out on the ballot, but deal with the broader issue of how European Union policy has shaped Greece during the austerity era.

So do most people understand the ballot question? Here is a sampling of responses when the question was read to citizens Friday:

___

I UNDERSTAND BUT IT’S STILL CONFUSING

Yanis Koutzouvelis, 19: “I understand the question in general but the question is not clear because we don’t know the consequences of voting ‘no’ and we don’t know if it means going out of the eurozone. I mean I don’t know in the end if the ‘yes’ or the ‘no’ is in reference to the drachma (Greek’s former national currency) or not. I will look at a lot of television and radio news but it’s super-difficult to understand what it really means.”

___

THE QUESTION IS MISLEADING

Andreas Simeou, 56: “With that question the government misleads the people. It’s not the fault of the Greek people. Now the government is giving the whole weight to the people and it always says it’s someone else’s fault that everything is a mess here.”

___

GREEKS UNDERSTAND WHAT’S AT STAKE

Maria Gaspariatou, 42: “No one really cares what’s written on the ballot and what the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ means. They really know what it means from their lives. Like my grandmother, my granddad, my parents who are pensioners, they really know why they have to vote ‘no.’ The people understand that the whole last five years it was poverty and now we have to decide for ourselves. We have very difficult times and the Greek people know that. And they are ready go through that and have a better future.”

____

THE TV TOLD ME WHAT IT MEANS

Maria Koleti, 57: “It’s only difficult for the people to understand if they are silly. There was so much analysis on the TV and in the newspapers explaining the ‘yes’ and the ‘no’ so no one has problems understanding what the ‘yes’ and the ‘no’ means on the ballot. The only people who don’t understand are those who don’t want to understand. We know what it means.”

____

DON’T ASK ME, I DIDN’T STUDY ECONOMICS

Stratos Harvis, 46: “I’m not so informed and not so into that stuff so for me it’s difficult to understand that question. But the last years in Greece it was very difficult for the people, so I would vote ‘no’. It’s tricky for someone who’s not involved, the questions are tricky because the way they are written a lot of people won’t understand. You have to have studied economics.”

____

IT’S OBVIOUS

Katerina Bakola, 46, laughing as she heard the text of the question: “I don’t think the way it is posed is difficult to understand. For me the question was obvious. At least I understand the questions and I think all the people understand.”

TIME France

Surrogate Children Get Legal Recognition in France

Until now, surrogate children were deprived of any legal connection to their parents

(PARIS) — France’s highest court has granted legal recognition to surrogate children, in a major turnaround that will make their daily lives easier and could lead to greater acceptance of new forms of families.

The Cour de cassation ruled Friday that, while surrogacy will remain banned in France, children born abroad through this practice will now be legally tied to their parents and will be granted birth certificates and immediate means to prove their French citizenship.

Surrogacy can involve a woman carrying an embryo created by in vitro fertilization using another woman’s egg and her partner’s sperm. In some cases, such as those involving male gay couples, the surrogate mother is also the genetic mother of the child.

Until now, surrogate children were deprived of any legal connection to their parents, or any civil status in France. They were considered as children born from unknown legal parents, since their foreign birth certificates weren’t recognized. One lawyer has described them as “ghosts of the republic.”

Unlike other children born abroad to a French parent, these children couldn’t get automatic ID cards or passports, or register for state health care or other services.

This exposed them to frequent problems, because many basic tasks are impossible in France without an ID or authorization from a legal parent.

In addition to potential psychological troubles due to their incomplete identities, the children were also deprived of eventual inheritance, and faced major imbroglios in case of a divorce or the death of one parent.

Many hope that Friday’s ruling will increase the options for infertile and same-sex couples in France. For-profit sperm banks are forbidden, as is surrogate parenthood, seen by many as turning the womb into a commodity.

Europe’s top human rights court last year ordered the country to change the law on surrogate children, saying France’s refusal to recognize them was “an attack on the child’s identity, for which descent is an essential component.”

Until recently, the Cour de cassation had repeatedly refused to give surrogate children any legal recognition, saying they were born abroad from a “fraudulent process.”

In Friday’s ruling, the top judges had to take into account the European decision. They found that their previous case law was contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights, and so decided to allow the transcription of the foreign birth certificates into the French civil status.

Two separate cases leading to the new ruling involved a gay couple and a single man who had gone to Russia to have babies through surrogate mothers.

The Cour de cassation said that the French birth certificates will have to mention as the fathers the men who recognized the children abroad. The mothers listed on the birth certificate will be the surrogate women who gave birth to the children. (Is this for these two cases specifically, or in general? Would it be the same if a French woman’s egg was used for IVF into a foreign surrogate?)

The overwhelming majority of the French parents using surrogacy abroad are heterosexual couples. But the judges left open the possibility of changes for heterosexual parents as well.

TIME Aviation

Germanwings Victims’ Relatives ‘Appalled’ by Compensation Offer

"The reactions ranged from blank horror and rage to despair and bitterness"

MAINZ, Germany — The families of passengers killed when a jet was deliberately crashed in the French Alps are “appalled” by a compensation offer made by Germanwings and parent company Lufthansa, according to their lawyers.

“The reactions ranged from blank horror and rage to despair and bitterness,” Elmar Giemulla, a lawyer representing families of 35 victims, told NBC News.

Lufthansa this week made an offer of 25,000 euros ($27,700) per victim and an additional 10,000 euros ($11,110) payment to each close relative as compensation for immaterial damage. This would come in addition to the 50,000 euros ($55,540) per victim that Lufthansa…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Greece

Poll Shows Even Split Ahead of Greek Referendum

The survey shows 41.5% will vote "Yes" and 40.2% will vote "No"

(ATHENS, Greece) —The brief but intense campaign in Greece’s critical bailout referendum ends Friday, with simultaneous rallies in Athens for “Yes” and “No” supporters in what an opinion poll shows will be a very close race.

The poll published in To Ethnos newspaper showed the “Yes” campaign slightly in the lead but well within the margin of error. It also showed an overwhelming majority — 74 percent — want the country to remain in Europe’s joint currency, the euro, compared to 15 percent who want a national currency.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called the referendum last weekend, asking Greeks to decide whether they should accept creditor reform proposals in return for vitally needed bailout funds. He is advocating a “No” vote on Sunday.

But those proposals are no longer on the table after negotiations with European creditors broke down last weekend and Greece’s bailout expired on Tuesday, meaning the country no longer has access to the rescue loans.

The “Yes” campaign says the referendum is in fact a vote on whether Greece wants to remain in the euro and in Europe. The government rejects this as scaremongering, saying a “No” vote will put it in a better bargaining position and will not lead Greece to leave the eurozone.

The survey conducted by ALCO found 41.5 percent will vote “Yes” on Sunday and 40.2 percent saying they will vote “No,” with 10.9 percent undecided. The rest said they would abstain or leave their ballots blank.

When discounting those who say they will case blank ballots or abstain, those intending to vote “Yes” came to 44.8 percent compared to 43.4 percent who will vote “No” and 11.8 percent undecided.

The survey interviewed 1,000 people nationwide on June 30-July 1 and has a margin of error of 3.1 percent.

The referendum campaign will wrap up Friday evening with rallies by the two sides, to be held 800 meters (875 yards) apart in central Athens. Tsipras is set to speak at the “No” rally in the capital’s main Syntagma Square outside Parliament, while the “Yes” rally will be held at the nearby Panathenian Stadium, where the first modern Olympics were held in 1894.

The vote is set to be one of the most important in Greece’s modern history, but many voters are confused about what’s at stake. The government vehemently denies a “No” vote would force the country out of the euro, but most opposition parties and many European officials have said this could be the case.

“The referendum is unclear in the way it is being phrased, so I interpret this ambiguity as meaning we might stay in Europe or not,” said Apostolos Foutsitzis, a 43-year-old medical scanner operator in the northern city of Thessaloniki. He said he will vote “Yes” because he wants Greece to remain in Europe.

Much of the ambiguity arises from the complicated question that will be printed on the ballot paper.

Greeks are being asked to reply to the following question:

“Must the agreement plan be accepted which was submitted by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund to the Eurogroup of 25 June 2015 and is comprised of two parts which make up their joint proposal?

“The first document is titled ‘reforms for the completion of the current program and beyond’ and the second ‘Preliminary debt sustainability analysis’.”

Then voters are asked to tick either the “not approved/no” box, which is placed above the “approved/yes” box.

The Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, is to rule Friday on a motion brought by two private citizens asking the court to rule the referendum illegal.

The vote comes after a week of bank closures, with Greeks restricted to daily withdrawals of 60 euros ($67) — although in practice this has been reduced to 50 euros as most automatic teller machines have run out of 20 euro notes.

Some banks have been opened to allow pensioners without ATM cards withdraw a maximum 120 euros for the week, with crowds of elderly people waiting outside the doors for hours to get inside.

Capital controls were imposed on Monday to staunch the hemorrhaging of funds from the country’s lenders as worried Greeks rushed to ATM machines after Tsipras’ referendum announcement last weekend.

“Our efforts are focused on overcoming the crisis as fast as possible — with a solution that preserves the dignity and sovereignty of our people,” Tsipras said Thursday.

The popular 40-year-old prime minister argues a strong “No” vote will help Greece win a new deal with the eurozone’s rescue mechanism that would include terms to make the country’s 320 billion euro national debt sustainable.

He insisted a deal could be struck “within 48 hours” of the vote.

His argument, however, was dismissed by the head of the eurozone finance ministers’ group, Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem.

“That suggestion is simply wrong,” Dijsselbloem told lawmakers in the Netherlands.

European officials and the Greek opposition have warned a “No” outcome Sunday could be tantamount to a decision to leave the euro.

“The consequences are not the same if it’s a ‘Yes’ or ‘No,'” French President Francois Hollande said.

“If it’s the ‘Yes,’ even if it’s on the basis of proposals that have already expired, negotiations can resume and I imagine be quickly concluded,” he said. “We are in something of an unknown. It’s up to the Greeks to respond.”

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