The Greeks faced closed banks, very limited withdrawals, rumors and conspiracy theories yesterday as a breakdown in talks between Athens and its creditors pushed the debt laden country to the periphery.
After receiving no extra emergency funding for Greek lenders from the European Central Bank, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras reluctantly imposed capital controls on Sunday night to prevent banks from collapsing under the weight of mass withdrawals.
Greece has less than 48 hours to pay back 1.6 billion euros of International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans, defaulting would trigger a chain of events that could lead to the country’s possible exit from the euro currency bloc.
However, after Tsipras riled Greece’s international lenders by announcing a snap referendum on the terms of a cash-for-reforms deal, hopes of a last-minute breakthrough are fading fast.
“I can’t believe it,” said Athens resident Evgenia Gekou, 50. “I keep thinking we will wake up tomorrow and everything will be OK. I’m trying hard not to worry.” The government will keep banks shut at least until after July 5, the date of the referendum, and withdrawals from automated teller machines, which the government shut yesterday, will be limited to 60 euros a day when they reopen today.
After months of wrangling, European partners have put the blame for the crisis totally on Tsipras’s head. The creditors wanted Greece to cut pensions and raise taxes in ways that Tsipras has long argued would only worsen one of the worst economic crises of the modern days in a country where a quarter of the workforce is already unemployed.
As Tsipras announced the emergency measures late on Sunday, there were long queues outside ATMs and petrol stations. Citizens were rushing to withdraw cash before it was too late.
Newspapers showed pictures of long queues outside cash machines on their front page. The Nafetemporiki daily had a headline yesterday titled “Dramatic hours” while the Ta Nea daily said: When will banks open
The conservative-leaning Eleftheros Typos newspaper accused Tsipras of announcing the referendum as a ruse to tip the country into early elections in the hopes of winning them.
“Tsipras’s decision to call a referendum and a possible euro exit constitutes a premeditated crime,” it said in an editorial. “It is clear that Tsipras has lost the trust of citizens. That’s obvious from the queues at ATMs and petrol stations, and it will become obvious at next Sunday’s ballot.”
As rumors went around, dozens of pensioners queued outside at least two offices of the National Bank of Greece yesterday after hearing they could withdraw pensions from some branches. The banks turned them away, Reuter’s photographers said.
“I’ve worked all my life, only to wake up one morning to a disaster like this,” said one shop owner, who was there to collect his wife’s pension.
However, not letting the financial situation affect too much, parts of daily life went on as normal. Shops, pharmacies, and supermarkets in the city were open and Greeks met to discuss their country’s fate at cafes and restaurants. Tourists gathered as usual to watch the changing of the presidential guard outside parliament.
A rally to protest against severity measures and urge voters to say “No” in the referendum on bailout terms was scheduled to take place later yesterday.