Elderly queue at banks in Greece debt crisis

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Crowds of anxious elderly Greeks have swamped banks from before dawn yesterday to withdraw their maximum of 120 euro (£85) for the week, after Greece reopened some banks to help pensioners without bank cards.

The often chaotic scenes came hours after Greece’s bailout program with European creditors expired and it failed to repay a debt to the International Monetary Fund, the first developed country to do so. The last country to miss an IMF payment was Zimbabwe in 2001.

The expiry of its bailout and the missed IMF payment left Greece cut off from vital financing and pushed it one step closer to leaving the euro. The IMF cannot lend money to a country that is in arrears.

The eurozone’s finance ministers are set to weigh a last-minute Greek proposal for a new aid programme, submitted on Tuesday afternoon.

Markets appear to have taken the latest developments in their stride, with investors still hopeful that a deal may emerge in the days ahead that would prevent Greece from leaving the euro. The Stoxx 50 index of leading European shares was up 0.6 per cent, while Germany’s DAX was 0.6 per cent higher.

The deadlines on Greece’s 
bailout and IMF payment expired after a tense weekend during which Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced he would put a deal proposal by Greece’s international creditors to a referendum on Sunday and urged a “No” vote.

The move increased fears the country could soon fall out of the euro currency bloc and saw Greeks rushing to pull money out of ATMs, leading the government to shutter its banks and restrict banking transactions.

Greeks are now limited to ATM withdrawals of 60 euro (£43) a day and cannot send money abroad or make international payments without special permission.

European officials and Greek opposition parties have been adamant that a “No” vote on Sunday will mean Greece will leave the euro and possibly even the EU.

The government rejects the argument as scaremongering, and says dismissing creditor demands will mean the country is in a better negotiating position.

However, government officials have begun hinting that the referendum might not go ahead if agreement with creditors is reached this week.

“Look, if a deal is found, there is a chance there could be this possibility too. Everything is developing,” Health Minister Panagiotis Kouroumplis said when asked during a morning news show on Antenna television whether the referendum could be called off under certain circumstances.

With many elderly Greeks 
unable to access any money 
without bank cards, the government said about 1,000 bank branches across the country would open for three days starting today to give them access to some cash.

But a seeming last minute decision to serve customers on an alphabetical basis, announced by some banks overnight and by others in the morning, led to chaotic scenes of confusion and anger, with many pensioners waiting for hours from before dawn to be eventually told they would have to return Thursday or Friday.

Others were told their pensions had not yet been deposited and they would therefore have to return later in the week.

mfl