Greek voters overwhelmingly rejected international creditors' tough bailout terms in a historic referendum on Sunday (Jul 5) that immediately sent the euro plummeting out of fear it could trigger a "Grexit" from the eurozone.
With near-complete results showing the 'No' vote winning by more than 61 per cent, the outcome represented a political victory for radical left Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras who claimed his negotiating position to secure a new debt deal was now greatly bolstered.
Thousands of pro-government supporters cheered and hugged each other in central Athens in celebration, although some other Greeks expressed pessimism that Tsipras would be able to deliver on his promises.
Eurozone leaders and officials - some of whom viewed the plebiscite as an in-out vote on Greece's membership in the euro - scrambled to work out their response.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande hastily called a European summit for Tuesday after stating the Greeks' decision must "be respected".
'NO RUPTURE WITH EUROPE'
Tsipras has "torn down the bridges" between Greece and Europe, Merkel's deputy chancellor, German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, told the Tagesspiegel newspaper. Despite the Greek premier's assertions, new bailout negotiations now were "difficult to imagine," he said.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, who had said a Greek 'No' would be "no to Europe", was to speak to the European Central Bank (ECB) and eurozone finance ministers on Sunday and Monday.
The head of the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, called the Greek 'No' result "very regrettable for the future of Greece".
The euro fell 1.6 per cent in the wake of the referendum, to US$1.0963, in electronic trading before recovering slightly to US$1.0987, still down 1.2 per cent.
In a televised address after the referendum, Tsipras insisted the vote did not mean a break with Europe. He has emphasised that euro membership is meant to be "irreversible" with no legal avenue to boot a country out. "This is not an mandate of rupture with Europe, but a mandate that bolsters our negotiating strength to achieve a viable deal," he said.
Tsipras claimed the creditors - the ECB, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) - would finally have to talk about restructuring the massive, €240-billion (US$267 billion) debt Greece owes them. "This time, the debt will be on the negotiating table," he said.
Punching the air, kissing and cheering, the 'No' camp in Athens exulted as the news came through that voters had rejected international creditors' demands.
"This is a victory for the Greek people, a chance for Europe," said Giorgos, 25, who had rushed along with his girlfriend to join some 6,000 people celebrating their triumph.
"Spain, and then Portugal, should follow this path. We're for a Europe of the people," he said, brushing off concerns the result could see the debt-laden country plunge further into the financial mire.
"This is Europe's chance to become what it should have been in the beginning," said 37-year-old Dima Rousso.
While many of those who voted 'No' were youths hit by record jobless rates, there were also elderly people in the crowds, wrapped in Greek flags and dancing in time with the victory chants.
But the mood of jubilation was not shared by all 'No' voters, with some saying they had been confronted with an impossible choice. "A 'No' victory doesn't mean there's any more hope for Greece than before," said Nika Spenzes, 33 and unemployed, who was walking in the opposite direction of the party.
Even 'Yes' voters were ambivalent about their camp's apparent defeat. Paris, a 41-year-old dentist, said she was resigned rather than sad because, with the dire state of Greece's finances and Tsipras in power, there was "no real hope either way."
ON THE BRINK
Greece is teetering on the brink of financial collapse. If it doesn't receive cash and loans soon from European institutions, it could still be forced to resort to government IOUs or a return to drachmas to keep its economy running.
Last Tuesday, the country defaulted on a €1.5-billion (US$1.7-billion) repayment to the IMF, becoming the first developed country to fall into arrears to the institution. As a result, it is cut off from further IMF financing until it settles the amount.
The same day, the last bailout for Greece ran out, despite Tsipras' appeals for it to be extended until the referendum was over. Greece was officially declared in default on Friday by the European Financial Stability Facility, which holds €144.6 billion (US$160 billion) of Greek loans.
Greek banks are now reportedly almost illiquid after a bank run by panicked customers in the lead-up to the referendum, which Tsipras abruptly called on June 27 to break an impasse with the creditors.
A week-long closure of the banks and capital controls that included restricting daily ATM withdrawals to just €60 (US$67) and blocking money transfers abroad slowed the outflow.
But if the ECB doesn't inject emergency euros into Greece's banks in the next one or two days, more businesses will go belly up and ordinary Greeks will suffer. Already, there have been heartbreaking scenes of pensioners in despair at not getting access to their accounts.
Government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis said late Sunday that the Bank of Greece was asking for ECB to provide money under its Emergency Liquidity Assistance mechanism.
Reacting to the referendum outcome, analysts at Barclays Research said a Grexit was now "the most likely scenario", while Deutsche Bank said the decisive 'No' meant the "probability of unpredictable outcomes to the Greek crisis has again materially increased".