Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Monday he would respect a potential Greek decision to stick to the path of austerity as prescribed by foreign creditors, but his government would not be the one to carry it out.
Responding to speculation he will have to resign if Greeks vote in a July 5 referendum to accept a reform-for-aid deal that he has already rejected, Tsipras told state television: "If the Greek people want to proceed with austerity plans in perpetuity, which will leave us unable to lift our heads ... we will respect it, but we will not be the ones to carry it out."
The 40-year-old premier, speaking as thousands of Greeks rallied in central Athens in support of a "No" vote, urged voters to throw out the deal. Greece’s European partners have said this could see the country driven from the 19-nation euro zone and plunged deeper into financial turmoil.
But Tsipras dismissed talk of a return to the drachma. "I don't think that their plan is to push Greece out of the euro but to end hopes that there can be different policies in Europe," he said.
With Athens set to default on a 1.6 billion-euro loan installment to the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday, Tsipras said he stood ready to talk to European leaders. If they were to offer a deal on Monday night, he said, Greece would pay its debt on Tuesday.
"My phone is on all day long. Whoever calls, I always pick up."
(Reporting by Michele Kambas and Renee Maltezou; Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Louise Ireland)