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‘Black Monday’ in Greece as panic simmers

A man jokes with the media after withdrawing the limit of euro 60 at an ATM machine in central Athens

A man jokes with the media after withdrawing the limit of euro 60 at an ATM machine in central Athens

ATHENS: It has already been dubbed “Black Monday” - jittery housewives, shoppers and business owners queued in vain at cash machines in Athens, where the country awoke to capital controls and shuttered banks. “I have a baby to feed, what am I supposed to do?” secretary Zoe Kallis, 32, told AFP after failing to get money out of the third ATM she had tried in the wealthy Kolonaki district.

For a country used to dealing largely in cash rather than credit cards, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s decision to close banks for seven days and limit withdrawals has unnerved Greeks. The measure is expected to hurt: cash in hand is more likely to be stashed under mattresses rather than splashed on new clothes, restaurants or the wages of those working in the vast black economy.

Cafe tables were laid out in the sun all over the city, but owner Nikos Gyallitsis said he expected a 50-percent drop in customers, with people keeping their money for essentials like food and petrol. “To shop you have to be happy, be confident, and now you don’t know what will happen the next day,” he said. Nearby, clothes shop owner Panayotis Vergetis said he was slashing 30 percent off his wares this week in a bid to lure people in. Today could not only see Athens default - the government’s coffers are bare even though it must make a Ä1.6-billion ($1.77 billion) payment to the International Monetary Fund - but it is also supposed to be pay-day for many.

‘No Money, No Hope’
“I’m afraid I’m going to lose my job, to be broke,” said Sofia Chronopoulos, who works in a fabric shop. “The banks are closed, the boss has no money, there are bills to pay,” she said. While cash withdrawals are officially limited to Ä60 a day, many Greeks said they had tried and failed to get any money out at all.

A panicked- looking Chris Bakas, 28 and unemployed, was sweating as he stared at the ATM screen. “No money, no hope, how did we get in this situation? This is Black Monday,” he said. Others said it was all being made worse by a “pack-like fear”, urging fellow Greeks to keep their heads.

On the city’s historic Syntagma square, the scene of fierce riots in the past over biting austerity measures imposed by the country’s international creditors, tourists snapping photographs of the parliament buildings said they felt the tension in the air. “There’s a sort of eerie calm, perhaps the calm before the storm,” said Jestin Marina from France, on holiday with her husband and son for three days.

The family brought extra cash with them and had been warned about the possibility of being targeted by thieves, but said, “We’re not afraid.” Fellow tourist Michele Ammann from Switzerland said he too had brought a lot of cash with him. “We’ve been budgeting to make sure it doesn’t run out. Our hotel is in the suburbs and people there seem very tired, very worried,” he said. “I feel sorry for the Greeks, they’ve been asked to sacrifice everything, right down to their underpants.” —AFP

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This article was published on 29/06/2015