Cyprus' banks reopen, but 'Russians' might lose big

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LIMASSOL, Cyprus -- Banks reopened Thursday in crisis-stricken Cyprus after a 12-day closure, but not everyone joined the queues, as small enterprises all over the island appeared to be on the verge of going under and unable to meet payrolls.

Lines of 30 or more formed outside many of the banks in the capital of Nicosia and in Limassol, the second-biggest city, when they opened their doors at noon.

Bank officials limited the number of people allowed inside to 10 or a dozen at a time.

To avoid a run on the two biggest banks, clients were limited to withdrawing $330 a day. But they can't touch their deposits or savings or cash checks at least until next week, and possibly well after that, in what are said to be the first such capital controls in the 14-year history of the euro currency.

At Bank Laiki, which is to fold, and the Bank of Cyprus, which will be reorganized, depositors -- who include individual savers, schools and universities, major corporations and Russian oligarchs allegedly laundering "dirty money" -- might lose 40 percent of their savings, or possibly more, beyond the insured amount of $130,000.

The International Monetary Fund and eurozone financial institutions imposed the onerous "bail-in" to raise $7.5 billion, as the Cypriot contribution to accompany $13 billion that the European Central Bank will inject to stabilize the country's banking sector.

Outwardly, Limassol, a port city of more than 180,000, appears to be thriving, with well-stocked shops and numerous fine restaurants.

But for most of the tens of thousands who have moved to this city from formerly communist countries -- there are at least 25,000 Russians -- the bank opening gave little relief.

At Viva la Vida, a well-appointed Mediterranean restaurant with "very good food at very good prices," there hasn't been "a single customer in two weeks," said immigrant waitress Lilia Cepraga, 37.

"Russians were the best clients" at the Ukrainian-owned restaurant, said Ms. Cepraga, who was born in the former Soviet republic of Moldova.

"I wake up every morning and read the Cyprus News," an English-language daily newspaper, "and I get a headache. If I don't get my salary, I could be out on the street. I don't know if I have enough to make a sandwich for my 12-year-daughter tomorrow," she said.

"Russians," a designation loosely accorded to nearly anyone from the former Soviet Union, are a major presence in Limassol, working in banks, shipping firms and as white- and blue-collar workers.

They also will be among the biggest losers in the reorganization, under which Cyprus' second-biggest bank, the Bank Laiki, will fold into the biggest, the Bank of Cyprus.



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