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Merkel 'suggested Greece euro vote'

Germany's chancellor has apparently waded into Greece's choppy political waters, with Athens saying Angela Merkel suggested that the country should hold a referendum on the euro together with next month's national elections.

But government spokesman Dimitris Tsiodras ruled out the idea, which he said Mrs Merkel floated during a phone call with Greek president Karolos Papoulias earlier in the day.

"(Merkel) also conveyed to the president thoughts on holding a referendum along with the elections, with the question of to what extent Greek citizens wish to remain in the eurozone," Mr Tsiodras said in a statement. "However, it is obvious that the issue lies outside the jurisdiction of the caretaker government," he added.

Greece is set to hold elections on June 17 to end a political deadlock after a previous vote on May 6 produced a hung parliament. The rise of parties opposed to Greece's austerity commitments - made to secure vital international rescue loans - has raised fears that if anti-bailout parties prevail, the country could be forced to leave the euro.

Berlin first refused to comment and then denied that Mrs Merkel had floated the idea during a phone conversation with Mr Papoulias.

The alleged proposal ruffled feathers across Greece's deeply fragmented political spectrum, with parties saying it was an unwarranted intervention in Greek affairs.

A German government spokeswoman said reports on the alleged referendum proposal "are inaccurate". She said the conversation between Mrs Merkel and Mr Papoulias - a fluent German speaker - was confidential.

Conservative leader Antonis Samaras, whose pro-bailout New Democracy party won a Pyrrhic victory in the May 6 vote, said Mrs Merkel's reported suggestion was "at the very least unfortunate".

"Greece doesn't need a referendum to prove its choice in favour of the euro, a choice that it's defending with bloody sacrifices," he said. "But the Greek people deserve the respect of their European partners."

Radical Left Coalition leader Alexis Tsipras - who led his anti-bailout party to a surprise second place in the last election - said Mrs Merkel was treating Greece "as a protectorate".

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