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Banks reopen, taxes hiked as Greece seeks to reboot economy

21 July 2015 03:29 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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AFP: Greek banks reopened yesterday after a three-week shutdown imposed to stop a run on ATMs from crashing the financial system, but citizens woke up to widespread price hikes as part of a cash-for-reform deal with the country’s creditors.

Bank branches were doing steady trade, AFP reporters said, after a shutdown estimated to have cost the crisis-hit Greek economy 3.0 billion euros (US $ 3.3 billion) since June 29.

Greeks still face capital control measures, including a ban on most transfers to foreign banks, but a daily cash withdrawal limit of 60 euros (US $ 65) has been relaxed.

Greeks are now able to withdraw a maximum of 300 euros at once until Friday, when a new weekly limit of 420 euros takes effect.

Meanwhile, a source close to the finance ministry confirmed that the government has begun making a 4.2 billion euro payment to the European Central Bank (ECB) and outstanding sums owed to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), made possible by a short-term “bridge” loan of 7.16 billion euros granted by the European Union on Friday.

The government agreed to tough reforms last week -- including tax hikes, an overhaul of the ailing pension system and privatisations it had previously opposed -- in exchange for a three-year bailout of up to 86 billion euros that it is hoped will stop it from crashing out of the eurozone.

Taxes went up yesterday on everything from sugar and cocoa to condoms, taxis and funerals, from 13 percent to 23 percent. But the tax on medicines, books and newspapers eased from 6.5 percent to 6.0 percent.

Louka Katseli, the head of Greece’s bank association, said some 40 billion euros have been withdrawn from Greek banks since December by customers anxious over the safety of their deposits, seriously damaging the banks’ ability to function normally.

She urged people to bring their savings back to the banks to support the crisis-hit financial system.

“If we take out the money from our safes and our houses -- where, in any case, it isn’t safe -- and we deposit it in the banks, we will reinforce liquidity,” she told the Mega TV channel.

But it was not exactly business as usual in bank branches yesterday, and customers expressed frustration over the continuing restrictions on financial services.

“I came today to collect my pension but unfortunately I could only get a small percentage of it,” said pensioner Spyros Papasotiriou as he left his bank in the northern Athens suburb of Neo Psychiko. “It’s a big hassle.”

Greeks will now be able to start using their credit cards for foreign purchases again, and certain exceptions to the capital controls have been introduced to help citizens who are studying or having medical treatment abroad.

But most people remain unable to transfer money to other countries, take out large sums, or open new bank accounts. The tough bailout agreement --
accepted by a radical-left party that came to power in January promising to end austerity -- came after more than 60 percent of Greeks rejected further cuts in a July 5 referendum called by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras himself. The premier’s critics accuse him of succumbing to blackmail by Greece’s creditors, who had threatened to expel the country from the eurozone. The austerity package caused a mutiny among lawmakers of Tsipras’s ruling Syriza party, forcing him to carry out a limited reshuffle on Friday. Most analysts and even government officials say early elections are inevitable, and are likely to be held in September.
 
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