Cyprus in crisis talks as banks remain closed

Banks to remain shut for five more days as ministers continue talks to hammer out alternative plan to avoid bankruptcy.
Last Modified: 20 Mar 2013 21:09

Cyprus has ordered banks to stay shut for another five days as ministers scramble to draw up a "Plan B" aimed at securing a bailout after parliament rejected a controversial tax on savings.

The authorities spent Wednesday in frantic talks, including with political party leaders and central bank officials, to hammer out the alternative plan, which a legislator said was not likely to be finalised before the weekend.

The cabinet went into a crisis session to look at bills designed to limit capital outflows and restructure the troubled banking sector, media reported.

The acting leader of the ruling Disy party, Averof Neophytou, said ministers planned to meet late into the night.

"We will not sleep tonight until we find a solution... I am confident we will find a solution so we do not go bankrupt," he said.

President Nicos Anastasiades' office said he had called another meeting of parliamentary leaders for Thursday at 0730 GMT.

No banking transactions

The finance ministry said banks, which last opened their doors on Friday, would remain closed again on Thursday and Friday "on grounds of public interest in order to ensure financial stability".

With Monday a scheduled public holiday, there is no prospect of any banking transactions before Tuesday, amid fears of a run on accounts by spooked foreign and domestic deposit holders.

State radio said bills had been drafted to restrict the outflow of cash from the island once the banks reopen. These would need to be passed by the cabinet and by parliament.

The legislation would also split the sector into "good banks" and "bad banks", it said.

The move has dealt another blow to companies already hit by the global financial crisis.

"We cannot buy, we cannot sell," said Costakis Sophoclides, the director of a frozen goods company who usually goes to banks in order to pay his suppliers.

"A lot of my customers are hotels and restaurants... and we cannot supply them... I have 25 employees now but next week I will have no products in my stores.

"What will happen? We don't know when we will get paid and if we will get paid," said the businessman whose products are imported from Europe, including Germany and the Netherlands.

The scramble began after members of parliament (MPs) on Tuesday night flatly rejected a measure that would have slapped a one-time levy of up to 9.9 percent on bank deposits as a condition for an EU-led 10-billion-euro ($13bn) loan.

The troika of the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund agreed on Saturday to provide Cyprus with the bailout on condition Nicosia raised another 5.8 billion euros through a levy on bank deposits.

Struggling with shortfall

They refused to offer more than 10 billion euros because that would increase the country's debt burden to unsustainable levels way above the IMF benchmark of 100 percent of gross domestic product.

IMF statutes do not allow the fund to lend money to countries that might not be in a position to pay it back.

Following the parliamentary "No" vote, in which ruling party MPs abstained, Cyprus turned to Russia in a bid to woo new assistance and to seek an easing of the terms of a 2.5-billion-euro loan Moscow afforded Nicosia in 2011, but Finance

Minister Michalis Sarris failed to reach progress after two rounds of talks in Moscow.

Media said options Cyprus was considering in order to meet the shortfall include raising money from domestic sources including provident funds, and restructuring the teetering banking sector.

While money is still available from ATM cashpoints, the dwindling liquidity has seen petrol stations close their credit card facilities and many stores are refusing cheques.

Amid the uncertainty, the head of the powerful Orthodox Church in Cyprus, Archbishop Chrysostomos II, offered to help by putting church assets at the government's disposal.

The church is the largest landowner in Cyprus and also has stakes in businesses including the island's Hellenic Bank, with estimated total assets of tens of millions of euros.


Al Jazeera And Agencies
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