Greek lawmakers debated a confidence motion ahead of a crunch vote Friday which could see embattled Prime Minister George Papandreou turfed out of office and trigger fresh eurozone turmoil.
Some 70 deputies from all parties have lined up to address the chamber before a scheduled speech by Papandreou at around 2130 GMT, some 30 minutes before the vote is set to begin, a parliament source said.
They include several ruling Pasok party deputies who were prevented from addressing a rowdy parliamentary group meeting on Thursday that was cut short.
Papandreou, whose shock call for a referendum on a badly-needed EU debt deal earned him a humiliating dressing-down from European officials, looks uncertain to survive much longer, with fresh calls for his resignation.
The result of the confidence vote is impossible to call. In theory, Papandreou's socialist Pasok enjoys a majority of two in the 300-seat parliament, but a handful of MPs have threatened to defy him, demanding he step down in favour of a unity government to steer Greece out of the crisis.
Analysts said that renewed political uncertainty could halt the disbursement of a new eight-billion-euro ($11-billion) loan package that Greece needs by December 15 to pay the bills.
Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who earlier informed Greece's EU partners they had scrapped the referendum, said the aim of the confidence vote would be to form a national unity government.
This government would seek to implement the terms of the EU bailout plan clinched in late-night talks in Brussels last week, guarantee the country's future in the eurozone and "respect the sacrifices of the Greek people," he said.
It was still not clear whether Papandreou would step aside, but in a dramatic development late Thursday he indicated he was ready to put country before personal ambition.
"I have excluded nothing from the discussion" with his political opponents, Papandreou told lawmakers.
"Even my own position. And I am not tied to any particular post. I have already said that and I am proving it daily.
"Even my re-election does not interest me. What interests me is saving the country," the prime minister added.
As uncertainty grew over the outcome of the chaos in Athens, stock markets headed lower after originally opening in the black. The German exchange fell more than two percent in mid-afternoon trade.
Greece's stock market also opened higher, then fell back, also down around two percent.
On the street, people appeared to be in favour of a government of national unity. One pensioner who gave his name as Takis, told AFP: "As matters stand, nothing can save us.
"There must be a government of national salvation with all the parties until we have elections. They way things are now George (Papandreou) cannot continue."
On Syntagma Square, where violent demonstrations have taken place during the crisis, Sofia Papadimitriou, a 25-year-old student taking a break before class, said: "Papandreou must go."
"He's had it. He can't get anything done. He hasn't got any energy left."
The political atmosphere in Athens remained fraught after rowdy parliamentary scenes Thursday, with opposition leader Antonis Samaras accusing Papandreou of blackmailing and lying to the Greek people in a desperate bid to cling to power.
The Ta Nea daily said the country was "on the edge of a cliff" and Eleftheros Typos rounded on Papandreou, saying he was "destroying Greece."
As the turmoil on the Greek political scene intensifies, the debt-wracked country, enduring its worst post-war economic crisis, is in danger of running out of cash in little over a month.
Venizelos had admitted that Athens "absolutely needed" before December 15 an eight-billion-euro slice of aid that has been blocked by EU leaders furious at Papandreou's referendum gamble.
For the first time, Merkel and others raised the spectre of Greece leaving the euro, hiking the pressure on the politicians in Athens to strike a deal if they wanted to remain in the bloc.
Analysts at Capital Economics said this was the most significant outcome of the Greek referendum saga.
"The fact that eurozone leaders have for the first time openly acknowledged that a country can leave the single currency is a potentially seismic development in the evolution of the debt crisis," they said.
And economists were eyeing the vote nervously, worried that more political uncertainty could push the European debt crisis to new heights.
Barclays Capital said in a research note that the confidence vote "probably holds the greatest uncertainty" of the economic risks on Friday.
"A no vote would likely further cloud the timing of the disbursement of the sixth IMF tranche, in our view," the note said.
Bemoaning the fact that "Greece is once again in the world media spotlight for all the wrong reasons," the Athens News said the country was in a state of "confusion and inconsistency."
Meanwhile, Vangelis Ipadimou, a worker studying the headlines at one of the several newspaper kiosks in central Athens, wanted to take power away from the politicians completely.
"We should give the responsibility to technocrats, not to politicians any more," he said.