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Back to the drachma? Greek lawmaker touches a nerve

ATHENS (Reuters) – An opposition lawmaker in Greece touched a nerve on Tuesday when he told parliament the left-wing government had a team preparing the ground for a return to the drachma, a prospect many Greeks fear would bring chaos.

The government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras angrily dismissed the claim as “fantasy”.

But there are a growing number of warnings from Greece’s European partners that a ‘No’ vote in a referendum on Sunday on the terms of a bailout deal would lead to a Greek exit from Europe’s common currency.

“There’s already a team within the prime minister’s office, with staff from the general accounting office, right now working on the drachma,” Haris Theoharis of the centrist opposition party To Potami told the chamber.

“You have a plan to take us back to the drachma,” said Theoharis, who headed the government’s revenue service in a previous conservative-led coalition.

The claim adds to a climate of fear and uncertainty in Greece, where banks are closed for the week and Greeks have been rationed to cash withdrawals of 60 euros per day after the collapse of negotiations at the weekend on extending a bailout program to keep the country liquid.

Tsipras said he would put the aid deal, which includes yet more austerity for a country going through one of the worst economic crises of modern times, to a popular plebiscite, and is urging a ‘No’ vote.

He insists rejection would not mean a Greek exit from the euro, but European leaders say the referendum amounts to ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ on whether to stay with the currency.

In parliament Deputy Labour Minister Dimitris Stratoulis accused Theoharis of trying to “terrorise” voters. A government spokesman said in a statement: “Apart from being a fantasy scenario, the statement of Mr Theoharis is the height of irresponsibility. Shame!”

Officials at the general accounting office could not immediately be reached for comment.

Poised to default on a 1.6 billion euro loan repayment to the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday, Athens faces running out of cash to pay pensions and wages without a new credit line.

Munich-based banknote printer Giesecke & Devrient said that, logistically, it would take over a year to produce a new currency. “As a rule, it takes at least one to one and a half years to set up a currency from scratch,” a spokeswoman said.

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