Radical parties seize Greek vote to push eurosceptic agenda

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Rome (AFP) - Eurosceptic parties at the extreme left and right of the political spectrum are exploiting the Greek referendum set for Sunday to bash the euro currency and advance their own agendas.

The hard-left government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has called on Greeks to vote 'No,' rejecting the bailout terms of more austerity from Greece's creditors.

Some leftist anti-austerity politicians around Europe have spoken up to support Tsipras and several plan to travel to Athens for Sunday's vote.

Nichi Vendola, leader of Italy's opposition Left, Ecology and Liberty party, has vowed to "show our solidarity with the Greek people as they confront... the social butchery ordered by Brussels and blessed by Berlin", which he calls incompatible with founding European principles of unity.

In Spain, radical leftist party Podemos -- which has expressed its support for Tsipras while stopping short of publically backing a 'No' vote -- will send its head of international relations, Pablo Bustinduy, to Athens.

"The problem isn't Greek, it's European... Some people are seeking to use the Greek people to show it is not possible to implement alternative policies in Europe, and specifically in southern Europe," said Inigo Errejon, the party's number two official.

France's Jean-Luc Melenchon, a founder of the Left Party, has criticised the "methodical, systematic strangulation of Greece by the Eurogroup to make it an example so people fear financial catastrophe in their own countries."

Italian comedian Beppe Grillo, who for months has been pushing for a referendum on whether the eurozone's third-largest economy should remain a member, has also pledged to visit Athens Sunday.

"We want to say publically that Tsipras, with this referendum, is doing an extraordinary thing because, democratically, he is giving the last word to the Greek people," Grillo said, urging a 'No' vote.

- 'Laboratory of hyper-austerity' -

Meanwhile Europe's right-wing flank, a surprising political bedfellow, has also hailed the Greek leftist government's plebiscite which it sees as the first step in member states clawing back sovereignty from Brussels.

"I say 'Go Tsipras,' even if I do not agree with his political vision, his economic policies, his deceit," said Renato Brunetta, an official from Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party.

"We're sick of this Europe of the bureaucrats, we're tired of this German Europe."

Among extreme-right parties, Florian Philippot, vice-president of France's National Front party that wants to abandon the euro, said Brussels had "played with the Greeks as you would guinea pigs (in)... a laboratory of hyper-austerity."

Nigel Farage, leader of Britain's eurosceptic UKIP party, said the vote was a chance for the Greeks to call European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker's "bluff" and take back their independence, along with their own currency.

"Greece has been impoverished by euro membership for too long. This crisis has now become an opportunity," he said on Twitter, adding: "The Greek people need freedom to prosper."

"If I were Greek, I would vote 'No,' because people should not be humiliated," added Matteo Salvini, the rising star of Italy's Northern League, who threatened to call on his supporters to replicate the rush by Greeks on cash machines to prove that "we are not slaves of the European Central Bank."

"This Europe is a disaster. The European rules are disastrous, the European treaties should be reviewed one by one, the single currency is a mistake. So, before dying of starvation and unemployment, we'd be better off stopping and reviewing it all, start again from the beginning," Salvini said.

Harald Vilimsky, a European Parliament member from Austria's nationalist FPO party, told AFP the Greek crisis is "the beginning of the end for the euro".

"Since 2008, all these attempts to stabilise and save the euro have only made the problem worse... This European architecture based on a common currency, which integrates incompatible economic systems, is increasingly dragging the whole EU zone into a general crisis."

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