Sunday 17 December 2017

'EU took everything in just one day' – Cypriots

AS she counts another day's paltry takings, Dimitra Charilaou knows she is a tiny cog in the machine that drives Cyprus's once thriving economy. She owns a small electrical supplies shop squeezed between a kebab joint and a nightclub in the old town of Nicosia, the island's capital.

Multiply her predicament by 850,000 – the population of this former British colony – and it is clear the island that claims to be the birthplace of Aphrodite, and which has streets named after Greek heroes such as Odysseus, will need the luck of the gods to avoid plunging off an economic cliff.

Picking out a €10 note from her cash till, Mrs Charilaou, 59, said: "This is what I've earned today. My rent is 500 a month, how am I going to pay it? The retail business is bleeding, everybody is shutting down.

"Today it's Cyprus, tomorrow it will be Italy. We used to live peacefully, we had jobs. Now they have changed our lives."

Last week the sun shone over Nicosia, but economic clouds are looming over Cyprus in the wake of the bail-out struck with Brussels, in which the country's two biggest banks are to be restructured and depositors hit with a "levy" of up to 80 per cent of their savings above €100,000.

In a move seen as crossing the Rubicon regarding the guarantee of savings within the eurozone, customers have had their accounts frozen; exactly when their money will be confiscated in the "haircut", as it is known, is expected to be announced this week.

So far there has been none of the violence that has affected neighbouring Greece.

Conventional wisdom has it that Cypriots are more restrained than their Greek cousins, though there are fears that could all change and some Cypriots could snap when the economy contracts by up to a quarter and unemployment soars to 25 per cent.

"I wouldn't be surprised if someone took a gun and went after whoever is responsible for all this," said Marios Georgiou, a 45-year-old civil servant who stands to lose 40 to 50 per cent of his savings.

"Is this fair? Is this legal? People can't believe it. We have been in a struggle with the Turks for 40 years, but it took the EU one day to come here and take all our money."

Drastic reform of the banking system was the condition imposed by the Troika in exchange for granting Cyprus €10bn in emergency funding.

The deal, hammered out during talks with Nicos Anastasiades, the new president of Cyprus, averted the risk of the country going bankrupt and crashing out of the euro.

Cypriots feel it was a betrayal by their EU partners and reserve particular opprobrium for Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, and its finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble.

"It's criminal, what they have done," said Carmen, 34, a Romanian businesswoman who has lived in Cyprus for two years.

"Never have I heard of a country robbing its citizens' bank accounts like this."

© Telegraph

Irish Independent

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