THE Papandreou government sacked Greece’s military chiefs en masse late on Tuesday night, following a shock announcement of a referendum on the EU austerity package which sent financial markets into meltdown.
Papandreou faces a confidence vote in parliament tomorrow and his move against the heads of the army, navy and air force and the chief of joint chiefs of staff – an attempt to avert the threat of a military coup – will be raised there.
The sacked military leadership was appointed in August 2009 by the previous conservative administration, just before national elections were called.
‘We won’t accept this decision,’ the main opposition conservative New Democracy party said.
‘It is immoral to change the leadership of the armed forces, just a few hours before the fall of the government,’ the far-right LAOS party said.
Announcing the referendum, Papandreou said: ‘The referendum will be a clear mandate and a clear message in and outside Greece on our European course and participation in the euro.
‘No one will be able to doubt Greece’s course within the euro.’
Papandreou also said a possible alternative of snap elections would risk Greece defaulting on its debt.
Following Tuesday’s referendum announcement, markets nosedived around the world.
The collapse horrified other European leaders, with France and Germany meeting Greek officials in Cannes for crisis talks yesterday, ahead of today’s G20 summit.
French President Sarkozy and German Chancellor Merkel called an emergency meeting with Papandreou in Cannes yesterday evening ahead of today’s G20 summit.
French President Sarkozy said the referendum call had ‘surprised all of Europe’ and that the bailout plan was the ‘only way possible’ to resolve Greece’s debt crisis.
The Greek government faces a crucial confidence vote in parliament on Friday.
There is opposition within Mr Papandreou’s Pasok party to his decision to hold a referendum, even though the cabinet expressed unanimous support. The government may well fall on Friday night.
Speaking on state television, interior minister Haris Kastanidis said there was a possibility the referendum could be held ‘within December’.
Eurozone chief Jean-Claude Juncker said if a referendum rejected the bailout, it could mean bankruptcy for Greece.
‘It will depend on the manner in which the question will be exactly formulated and on what the Greeks exactly vote on,’ he said.
Some Greek government ministers had been unaware of the referendum plan until it was announced.
Antonis Samaras, leader of the New Democrats, said: ‘In order to save himself, Mr Papandreou has posed a dilemma of blackmail that puts our future and our position in Europe in danger.’