ATHENS Disillusioned Greeks heaped scorn on Prime Minister George Papandreou's plan to put a bailout lifeline to a popular referendum, with some viewing it as a ploy to win backing for harsh austerity measures.
"This referendum is a bluff. They are just mocking us," said Emanuel Papadopoulos, 50-year-old street cleaner.
Like many others on the streets of Athens Tuesday, Papadopoulos said he felt the government was trying to stay in power by pocketing a semblance of popular support if Greeks voted in favor of the bailout deal.
"I haven't thought about how I will vote. How should I vote? As if it is elections or as if it is a referendum? What will the question (on the referendum) be?" said Papadopoulos.
Papandreou made the surprise announcement late Monday, sending markets tumbling as investors fretted that a 130 billion euro ($181 billion) rescue package European leaders hammered out last week to keep Greece afloat would now fall apart.
With anger running high in Greece over wave after wave of austerity measures that have hiked taxes, lowered wages and triggered strikes, analysts fear Greeks will vote down their financial lifeline and push the country to economic collapse.
"It's absurd. Now they have put the ball in our court, but isn't it their responsibility to decide?" said Haris Velakoutakou, a 64-year-old tour guide.
"What is this? They should have done this referendum from the beginning, before all these austerity measures were taken."
A poll over the weekend showed nearly 60 percent of Greeks have a negative view of the rescue deal, suggesting that voters in the referendum likely to be held early next year, will say no to the rescue package.
But on the streets of Athens, there was a sense that the government would attempt to cajole Greeks into backing the unpopular bailout by warning them that the alternative is a full-scale financial collapse that brings Greece to its knees.
Greece is due to receive an 8 billion-euro tranche in mid-November, but that is likely to run out during January, potentially leaving the state without funds to pay salaries or maintain services if the package is voted down.
"He is blackmailing us," said Yannis Aggelou, a 50-year old sales manager at a steel company.
Still, a few expressed hope the referendum would finally get all Greeks on board to save their future together.
"It was a good decision to call a referendum. Let's take our fate in our hands. I want us to say 'yes'. I want us to stay in the euro. Returning to the drachma would be disastrous," said Dionysia Aggelopoulou, 74, pensioner.
"Let us decide whether it is good or bad. I've been through worse, tough times, war. Do we really want to go back to those days?"
($1 = 0.717 Euros)
(Writing by Deepa Babington, editing by Paul Casciato)