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Banks in Cyprus reopened on Thursday after a 12-day lockdown, with tight controls imposed on transactions to prevent a run on deposits. The streets of the capital Nicosia remained calm, however, despite initial fears that the banks would be swarmed.


Cyprus banks reopened under armed guard on Thursday after a nearly two-week lockdown but customers faced harsh curbs to stop them draining the island's coffers after its eurozone bailout.

The streets of the capital remained calm despite fears that savers would rush to withdraw cash. Camera crews swarmed Nicosia's central Eleftheria Square, desperately looking for queues of distraught, panicked account holders.

The banks opened at 12:00 p.m. (1000 GMT) for the first time since March 16, with small, patient crowds assembled outside the front doors of both Laiki and Cyprus banks at Eleftheria Square. But at Laiki bank the management would only allow four people to go in at a time. A Laiki employee came out to answer worried clients' questions - some cash machines would only dispense €100 instead of the decreed €300.

Two pensioners sitting outside Laiki said they came mainly out of curiosity over the media presence.

"I never trusted banks -- anyway we only have debt at Laiki Bank,"  joked Andreas, 72.

"We know we can only withdraw small sums but people aren't panicking -- there will only be crowds," the pensioner said, money clasped in hand.

Abraham, 77, came half an hour before the banks were set to open to avoid potential queues. He was very relaxed about the situation.


"I am not really worried about it all, I just need to shop for a few things and then I'll withdraw my savings when they eventually lift the controls," he said.

Banks were handing out lists of the controls including a daily withdrawal limit of 300 euros ($385), imposed to prevent a run on the banks that could wreak havoc on the east Mediterranean island's already fragile economy.

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

The Cyprus stock exchange remained closed.

Most banks in Nicosia had between one and three guards posted at their entrances in the early morning, some of them carrying weapons -- an alien sight in the generally peaceful tourist island.

There were queues of up to 25 people at other banks.

Cypriot authorities appealed on television late Wednesday for people to give priority to the elderly as many do not have credit cards and have to withdraw their money over the counter.

Roula Spyrou, 50, a jewellery shop owner, said she would not bother going to the bank. "There's going to be queues so I'm not going to spend hours there to get 300 euros," she said.

The restrictions -- which last for a week before they will be reviewed -- also ban the cashing of cheques and ordered those travelling abroad not to take more than 1,000 euros out of the country.

Under a deal agreed in Brussels on Monday, Cyprus must raise 5.8 billion euros to qualify for the full 10-billion-euro loan 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 or 'Popular Bank' -- face losing a large chunk of their money.

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. Unlike in other European countries, Cypriot tellers are not housed behind glass barriers.

Monday's deal kept the Mediterranean island from crashing out of the eurozone -- but it has provoked fury at home.

Finance Minister Michalis Sarris said on Wednesday that Cyprus "will see worse days in 2013... the economy will go into deeper recession."

On Wednesday, around 1,500 anti-austerity protesters marched on the presidential palace.

Bank workers could be among the worst hit by the bailout as it demands major reforms to its banking system, which is heavily dependent on Russian money.

The bailout involves restructuring the Bank of Cyprus and eventually winding down Laiki, whose "good" assets will be absorbed by the bigger bank. BoC's chief executive was sacked on Wednesday.

Cyprus is the first eurozone country to impose capital controls after bailouts -- unlike Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland, which have also received multi-billion-dollar rescue packages.

As well as raising concerns that other countries could face similarly harsh bailouts in future, the move has raised fears that it could effectively create "two euros" as euros trapped in Cyprus are effectively worthless.

But the European Commission said on Thursday there was "a matter of overriding public interest" in imposing the controls to maintain the stability of the financial system and of Cypriot banks.



Istanbul Symphony Orchestra draws attention to Syria


Description: Istanbul Symphony Orchestra draws attention to Syria© Hurriyet

The Istanbul Symphony Orchestra performed March 25 under famed Bosnian orchestra conductor Emir Nuhanovic. Culture and Tourism Minister Ömer Çelik said the concert was aimed at drawing attention to the tragedy unfolding in Syria.

By Hürriyet Daily News (text)

The Istanbul Symphony Orchestra performed March 25 under the baton of famous Bosnian orchestra conductor Emir Nuhanovic. The concert at Istanbul’s Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall was organized to draw attention to the human tragedy in Syria and hosted Syrian violinist Ali Moraly as a soloist.

Culture and Tourism Minister Ömer Çelik, who made a speech before the concert, said that while optimism was in the air all around the world in the 1990s, the people of Sarajevo faced a massacre.

Çelik said Syria was currently experiencing a tragedy before the whole world and the concert was held to draw attention to this drama.        



UK loses latest bid to deport radical cleric Abu Qatada


Description: UK loses latest bid to deport radical cleric Abu Qatada

Radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada won an appeal Wednesday against a British order to deport him to Jordan, where he has been convicted in absentia on terrorism charges, on the grounds that evidence against him may have been obtained by torture.

By News Wires (text)

A radical Muslim cleric thwarted another effort by Britain to have him deported to Jordan after a court accepted arguments Wednesday that he would face testimony obtained by torture.

Britain wants to deport Abu Qatada to Jordan, where he was convicted in absentia for terror plots in 1999 and 2000. Successive British governments have been trying since 2001 to remove the Islamist cleric, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman.

But the man described by prosecutors as a key al-Qaida operative in Europe, with ties to the late Osama bin Laden, has successfully fought deportation in British and European courts -- and it is not over yet. The British government pledged to fight on, despite the loss in the Court of Appeal.

 “This is not the end of the road, and the government remains determined to deport Abu Qatada,” Britain’s Home Office said in a statement. “We will consider this judgment carefully and plan to seek leave to appeal.”

Britain said it would try to work with Jordan’s government to try to address the concerns -- to seek some sort of guarantee that evidence obtained by torture not be used.

The case involved a decision by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, which handles major terrorism and deportation cases. The commission upheld his challenge to Britain’s decision to send the cleric to Jordan and agreed that there was a real risk that evidence obtained from torture would be used, violating his human rights.

That decision came despite the government’s insistence that it has won assurances from Jordan over how Abu Qatada’s case would be handled.

Britain accuses the cleric of links with Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in the U.S. over the Sept. 11 attacks, and with shoe bomber Richard Reid. Recordings of his sermons were found in an apartment used by some of the 9/11 hijackers.


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