Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Last-gasp push for deal on Cyprus

Bank employees protest outside the ministry of finance in Cyprus (AP)

Cypriot politicians have turned to the European Union in a last-ditch effort to help their island nation forge a viable plan to secure an international bailout and avoid bankruptcy.

Politicians were under pressure to come up with a solution quickly.

The European Central Bank has threatened to stop providing emergency funding to Cyprus' banks after Monday if there is no agreement on a way to raise 5.8 billion euro (£5 million) needed to get a 10 billion euro (£8.5 billion) rescue loan package from the International Monetary Fund and the other European countries that use the euro currency.

If Cyprus fails to secure a bailout, some of its banks could collapse within days, rapidly dragging down the government and possibly forcing the country of around one million out of the eurozone. Analysts say that could threaten the stability of the currency used by more than 300 million people in 17 EU nations. Despite that risk, Europe's biggest economy maintained a hard line on the negotiations.

German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in an interview "if possible we want to avoid seeing Cyprus sliding into insolvency". But he cautioned that he is "known for not giving in to blackmail, by nobody and nothing". Heading into a decisive meeting of eurozone finance ministers on the issue in Brussels, Mr Schaeuble said an agreement can be reached if Cyprus meets creditors' demands. He said: "I hope we can get to a result today. But that of course requires that the situation is viewed realistically in Cyprus. This is not about us - the decision lies with Cyprus."

Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades and his finance minister were meeting with representatives of the troika of international creditors - the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, to work out final details, officials said.

The meeting dragged on, and the start of the meeting of eurozone finance ministers was postponed by two hours, until 8pm local time. Irish finance minister Michael Noonan said: "I'm expecting quite a long night. I think a deal will be done tonight but I think it will be late, because a lot of detail has to be worked out."

Cyprus' central bank has imposed a daily withdrawal limit of 100 euro (£85) from ATMs of the country's two largest lenders, Bank of Cyprus and Laiki, to prevent a bank run by depositors worried about their savings.

Laiki is to be restructured as part of a plan for Cyprus to raise enough funds to allow it to qualify for an international bailout. The bank had already imposed a limit of 260 euro (£220) last week after its ATMs were swarmed by alarmed customers. Bank of Cyprus also is likely to be involved and big savers in both could lose a portion of their money.

All Cypriot banks have been shut for the past week, but ATMs have been disbursing money.

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