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Eurogroup reeling as Tsipras calls referendum

Eurozone finance ministers preparing to discuss Greece on Saturday have a new consideration. Prime Minister Tsipras announced a referendum on the country's next steps should an agreement be reached in Brussels.

Hours before the 19 eurozone finance ministers

were set to meet

, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Greece would

hold a July 5 referendum

following the outcome of negotiations with international creditors taking place in Brussels. Tsipras spoke amid heightened anxiety over a possible June 30 default, which could spark Greece's losing the euro currency - and even its EU membership.

The prime minister said his government had sought "a viable agreement that respects democracy" in its negotiations with international creditors and eurozone partners, but that ultimately "the people must decide free of any blackmail." He added: "This is a historic responsibility that now appears for us to decide the future of the country."

The creditors are withholding the payout of the next 7.2 billion euros ($8.1 billion) in Greece's emergency loan package. Greece needs to make a 1.6-billion-euro repayment to the International Monetary Fund by the end of the month.

'A historic responsibility'

Angela Merkel

urged Greece to accept the latest "extraordinarily generous" offer from creditors. However, Tsipras, who met with the chancellor at

a two-day EU leaders' summit

, had said he would refuse ultimatums and that the creditors' proposals "clearly violate European social rules and fundamental rights."

The European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund insist that Greece must seal a deal this weekend. However, Greek officials say they have yet to hear the terms they want from the creditors.

"Democracy deserved a boost in euro-related matters," Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis wrote on Twitter following the declaration of the referendum. "We just delivered it. Let the people decide."

Earlier on Friday, Varoufakis had called the current proposal by the international creditors "

clearly unviable

."

Some economists say five years of harsh austerity measures imposed on Greece from abroad have exacerbated the long recession that has followed the country's 2009 financial collapse and the contemporaneous revelation that a previous, right-wing government had hid years of deficits.

Led by Tsipras, the Syriza party took power in January after promising an end to austerity and entrenched debts, but has failed to make headway with the international creditors demanding the cuts.

"Every time Greece goes to find a solution, they come and tell you, 'Bring some pensioners so that we execute them,'" Labor Minister Panos Skourletis told Greek broadcaster Mega.

mkg/bk (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

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