Hopes, fears as Greeks vote on uncertain future

ATHENS - As the sun rose above Greece on Sunday, young and old were already queuing to have their say in a referendum which could be a new dawn for their crisis-wracked country, or plunge its finances deeper into the dark.

Voting 'No' means rejecting an austerity-heavy bailout deal from Greece's international creditors, but it could also see the country forced out of the eurozone, with untold consequences.

"I'm voting 'No' because I think it's better for the country," said 80-year-old Michelis, first in through the doors of an elementary school being used for the vote in the centre of Athens.

"If we vote 'No' they'll take us more seriously," he said, adding that he was "not voting for myself, but for my grandchildren" and their future.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his radical-left party have urged people to say 'No' to a "humiliating" deal from the European Union, European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

But many Greeks are fearful a 'No' vote could see a return to the drachma - the currency used in Greece before it adopted the euro in 2001 - and support for the 'Yes' camp has been growing in recent days.

Theodora, 61, a retired journalist, said she was voting 'Yes' because "it's a 'Yes' to the European Union".

"I pray on my knees for the 'Yes' to win. A 'No' would be the beginning of a dissolution," she said.

The blonde, who threw on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt to vote, said the government's imposition of capital controls this week - which capped ATM withdrawals at 60 euros ($67) a day - had infuriated Greeks.

"I'm more than angry... to queue for 60 euros, not to know what I will have tomorrow, what life is that?" she said.

'Dangerous for Greece'

In the polling station in Athens' Skoufa street, people were being asked to tick the 'Yes' or 'No' response to a complex, 74-word question on whether or not to accept the bailout terms, posting their ballots in classrooms lined with children's drawings and maps.

Police checked identification documents as Orthodox prayers rang out from a church in front of the school.

There was little enthusiasm for a vote which many Greeks, devastated by five years of austerity, say has hardly any chance of resolving their problems.

Basil, 56, said he was voting 'Yes' but blamed Tsipras for calling the referendum at all, insisting it "could have been avoided" - and should have, as it worsened Greece's negotiating stance with its creditors.

"This is very dangerous for Greece," he said, adding that the campaign had "boosted people's divisions".

Yanis, a voter in his 50s, said he would vote 'No' because the heavily-indebted country - which suffers from sky-high unemployment - needed the opportunity and freedom to be able to implement growth measures.

"I think it's a big chance for a small country like us," he said, as he posted his vote into the ballot box.

But Theodora insisted that "when you join the club, you have to accept the rules of the club." "The euro should never have been introduced into Greece. Everyone wanted the latest iPhone, the most modern car or house," whereas now Greeks were scared and hoarding money to spend on basic foodstuffs.

The referendum result is expected a couple of hours after polls close at 7:00pm (1600 GMT), but many people said they did not know what lay in store for the country, regardless of which side one.

"The atmosphere is very bad because of the uncertainty," said 75-year old Constantin, the worry evidence in his tired blue eyes.