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Greek Finance Minister Resigns Following 'No' Vote

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis arrives to make a statement in Athens, Greece July 5, 2015.

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis resigned Monday, a day after Greek voters overwhelmingly rejected a demand by the country's lenders to impose more austerity measures on the country in exchange for new bailout loans for the government in Athens.

His resignation was a surprise because Varoufakis had said he would only resign if his countrymen voted in favor of accepting the austerity demands.

However, Varoufakis said Monday he was "made aware of a certain preference" by some eurozone members for his "absence" from meetings of finance ministers. He said his withdrawal from such meetings was "an idea the prime minister judged to be potentially helpful to him in reaching an agreement" with Greece's creditors.

Varoufakis has often clashed with the creditors in the past few months. And a few days ago, he accused the European Union of "terrorism" by trying to scare the Greeks into voting the EU's way.

Varoufakis said Sunday the "no" vote was a "holy moment" and "a moment of hope for the whole of Europe."

Results showed 61 percent of voters rebuffed warnings from European leaders that ignoring their calls for more austerity could force the country from the 19-nation euro currency bloc.

Tsipras sees cause for celebration

After the referendum, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who had urged a "no" vote, said, "Today we celebrate the victory of democracy."

He said that Athens is ready to return to the negotiation table and that the public mandate will give him a stronger hand to reach a better deal with Greece's creditors. Voters had made "a very brave choice," he said.

The opposition accused Tsipras of jeopardizing the country's membership in the 19-nation group that uses the euro. Greek opposition leader Antonis Samaras announced his resignation, after his New Democracy party had urged a "yes" vote in the referendum.

Whether the creditors will be willing to pull back on their austerity demands and approve more bailout money for Greece is far from certain. As Athens defaulted on a $1.8 billion loan payment due to the International Monetary Fund last week, European leaders said a negative vote would signal that Greece wants to leave the eurozone and divorce itself politically from Europe.

A supporter of the No vote waves a Greek flag after the referendum's exit polls at Syntagma square in Athens, Sunday, July 5, 2015.
A supporter of the No vote waves a Greek flag after the referendum's exit polls at Syntagma square in Athens, Sunday, July 5, 2015.

Cheering referendum outcome

Thousands of Greeks gathered in Athens' main square Sunday night to cheer the outcome of the referendum, with many chanting "No, no!"

Nearly 10 million people were registered to vote in the referendum. Officials said more than half that number may actually have voted.

Varoufakis, after voting, said, "The massive failures of the eurogroup were leading to ultimatums for which the Greek people had no say. Today, after five years of failure, the Greek people have the opportunity to decide on the last ultimatum of the eurogroup, the institutions and our partners. This is about a holy moment. A moment of hope for the whole of Europe, a moment that gives hope to Europe that the common currency and democracy can co-exist, and they co-exist."

Difficulties ahead

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, head of the eurozone finance ministers, said "difficult measures and reforms are inevitable" for the recovery of the Greek economy.

One voter predicted there would be no good outcome from the referendum, saying, "This referendum should not have happened. There is no dilemma. It is just as bad for us either way."

But those in the "yes" camp said Greece has no choice but a European future. Being forced out of the eurozone means Greece would have to go back to using its old currency, the drachma, money that some outside Greece could refuse to accept.

The week leading up to Sunday's referendum was miserable for most Greeks.

The government put strict limits on withdrawals to avoid running out of money, although many ATMs quickly ran out of cash. Supermarkets are fast running out of basic foods. Storekeepers are reluctant to restock shelves because of the uncertainty of how they would be able to pay for the supplies.

European leaders have accused Athens of refusing to make any more economic reforms, while the Greeks say they have sacrificed enough and feel enslaved to their creditors.