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Cyprus banks reopen under armed guard


Nicosia, CYPRUS: Two men walk past a Bank of Cyprus branch on Nicosia's Makarios main thoroughfare.



Cyprus residents lined up Thursday as banks reopened under armed guard and with strict transaction restrictions.

Bank tellers, who showed up early to work expecting a rush, pleaded with customers not to take out their frustrations when doors open at 12:00 p.m. local time for the first time in 12 days. Authorities were also seen bringing in truckloads of shipping containers full of euros under heavy security.

Banks were closed almost two weeks ago while the government negotiated a 10 billion euro bailout, the first in the eurozone to impose losses on bank depositors.

Branches of Cyprus's second-largest bank, Laiki, did not open on time due to a delay in the lender's computer system. Bank spokesman Costas Archimandrites said there had been an initial problem with the system, but that 80 percent of the branches had already opened after about half an hour.

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One branch in central Nicosia was shut for nearly an hour after the others had opened, and an employee asked about 50 customers in line for patience as they resolved an issue inside. Some complained about the wait, but most waited calmly.

Cypriot authorities requested late Wednesday that people give priority to the elderly at banks as many do not have credit cards and only withdraw money from tellers.

Roula Spyrou, 50, a jewelry shop owner, told Agence France-Presse she would not bother going Thursday anyway.

"I'm not going to the bank today. I have to be in the shop these hours. There's going to be queues so I'm not going to spend so many hours there to get 300 euros," she said.

But those who did make their way to banks Thursday weren't all bothered by the allowed withdrawal amount. Some even made deposits.

Minimarket owner Kyriakos Vourghouri came out of a bank waving a yellow deposit slip, according to AFP, showing an amount of 678 euros ($869).

"I didn't withdraw any money. I deposited money," he said. "The problem is not in Cyprus, it is in Europe, which has become gangrenous."

Foreign journalists outnumbered residents lining up outside banks, and by late afternoon people were entering banks freely with no wait ahead of them. Most were said to be withdrawing mooney or paying utility bills.