Cypriots concerned for businesses after international bailout

Customers wait outside an office of Bank of Cyprus in Nicosia. Banks reopened to customers for the first time in almost two weeks.
Customers wait outside an office of Bank of Cyprus in Nicosia. Banks reopened to customers for the first time in almost two weeks. (PETROS KARADJIAS / AP)
Posted: March 30, 2013

NICOSIA, Cyprus - There were long lines of anxious people but no sign of trouble as banks in Cyprus opened Thursday for the first time in nearly two weeks, after an international bailout that sought to save the country from financial ruin.

To stop a run on its banks, the government imposed a daily limit on how much people can withdraw - the first such action in the 14-year history of the euro. Cypriots took the measure in stride, aware that with their economy on the edge of collapse, panic would make the situation worse.

"Everything has been paralyzed. Besides my business being already low, now no one thinks of buying flowers," said florist Christos Papamichael, who was among about 30 people waiting for bank doors to open.

The limits on transactions - cash withdrawals of only 300 euros ($383) per person per day, payments abroad of only 5,000 euros ($6,400), no check-cashing - were imposed initially for seven days and are being reviewed daily. According to Cyprus Central Bank assessments, the restrictions are to be fully lifted in a month, Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said.

Guards from private security firms reinforced police outside some ATMs and banks in the capital, Nicosia, but no problems controlling crowds were reported. President Nicos Anastasiades expressed his gratitude to the nation's citizens "for the maturity and spirit of responsibility they have shown at a critical time for the stability of the Cypriot economy," a statement said.

Yet many Cypriots were frustrated by the closures and controls, and concerned for their businesses and livelihoods.

Banks had been shut in Cyprus since March 16 to prevent people from draining their accounts as politicians scrambled to come up with a plan to allow the country to qualify for 10 billion euros ($12.9 billion) in international bailout loans for its stricken financial sector.

A deal was finally reached in Brussels with other euro countries and the International Monetary Fund early Monday.

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