Queues form as Cyprus banks reopen

Dozens of people queued outside Cyprus banks for their cash on Thursday ahead of their reopening after an unprecedented 12-day lockdown, AFP journalists and witnesses said.

Banks posted armed guards outside many branches while tellers urged customers not to vent their frustrations on them when bank doors swing open at 12:00pm (1000 GMT) for the first time in almost two weeks.

But where authorities had feared a stampede by cash-starved Cypriots following the closure imposed while the island dealt with an EU bailout, the queues were largely small and customers subdued rather than angry.

"It will be a very bad day -- there will be swearing and a lot of anger," Philippos Philippou, an unemployed electrician wearing a purple sweatshirt, told AFP outside Laiki, or Popular Bank, in Nicosia's Makarios Street.

About 12 people were queuing up outside the branch while witnesses saw small queues at other banks in the city.

A bearded man, wearing a blue sweatshirt, who would not give his name, said: "I will take all my money slowly, slowly."

He said he believed the panic would last a week or two. "After that things will return to normal, but with less money."

Depositors face severe restrictions to prevent a run on the banks that could wreak havoc on the island's already fragile economy, with daily withdrawals limited to 300 euros ($385).

Some Cypriots said there was no point in queuing when the amounts involved were so small.

"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," said Roula Spyrou, 50, a jewellery shop owner.

Under a deal agreed in Brussels on Monday, Cyprus must raise 5.8 billion euros to qualify for a 10-billion-euro bailout from the "troika" of the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Depositors with more than 100,000 euros in the top two banks -- Bank of Cyprus (BoC) and Laiki -- face losing a large chunk of their money. Laiki will be wrapped up and largely absorbed by the larger BoC.

Five shipping containers reportedly filled with billions of euros were delivered to the central bank in Nicosia late Wednesday, an AFP photographer said. A helicopter and police cars accompanied the cash convoy.

Banking employees union ETYK said staff were ready to go back to work but urged the public not to blame them for the tight controls imposed on their capital.

hc-dk/bpz