Guards, no queues as Cyprus banks brace for reopening

NICOSIA (AFP) - Armed security guards were posted at Cyprus banks on Thursday ahead of their reopening after an unprecedented 12-day lockdown, but there was no sign of customers queuing early for access to their cash.

Tellers, who unlike in other European countries are not housed behind glass security, have urged customers not to vent their frustrations on them when bank doors swing open at 12:00pm (6pm Singapore time) for the first time in almost two weeks.

Most banks in Nicosia had between one and three guards posted at their entrances early morning, but there were no crowds yet for them to control.

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 (S$477).

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 or 'Popular Bank' - face losing a large chunk of their money.

Five shipping containers reportedly filled with billions of euros were delivered to the central bank in Nicosia late on 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.

"We must all keep in mind that as bank employees, we are not responsible but on the contrary colleagues are themselves victims of criminal acts and/or omissions that led to this destruction and many are in a very tragic situation," said an ETYK union statement.