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Greeks Still Face Transaction Limits After Banks Reopen


After weeks of turmoil, Greece is trying to return to normal. Today, the country paid off some of its debt, thanks to a large loan from European officials, and banks re-opened. But as NPR's Jim Zarroli reports, Greeks still face strict limits on the money they can withdraw.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Mandrakos Nikolas (ph) showed up at his bank in Athens today almost as soon as the doors opened. He wanted to deposit a check so he could pay into a retirement fund. There were so many people snaking through the lobby that the bank's computers crashed.

MANDRAKOS NIKOLAS: I wait about two hours.

ZARROLI: Because there's - the line is so long.

NIKOLAS: The line was very big, and also a problem was that the system breaks down.

ZARROLI: Another customer, Dimitra Griti (ph), made clear she's deeply tired of the turmoil in Greece right now.

DIMITRA GRITI: I'm not very optimistic because the Greek, they don't want to change the mentality. This is the problem. They don't want to make the reforms. This is a big problem for me.

ZARROLI: Although the banks opened as scheduled, customers can still withdrawal only 60 euros a day, but they can take out all their money once a week, so they don't need to keep returning to the ATM every day. Greek officials are anxious to prevent a run on the banks, and they're pleading with people to deposit any stray cash they have lying around the house. Ilias Siakantaris is an economist and TV commentator.

ILIAS SIAKANTARIS: Basically, today it was the first step towards normalcy again, but that will take quite a few weeks or months.

ZARROLI: He says Greeks still face restrictions on transferring money abroad.

SIAKANTARIS: You still cannot order a book from Amazon or an application from an iPod. Greek credit is not accepted in the rest of the European Union, so we still are in a very capital-controlled situation.

ZARROLI: Greece was able to reopen its banks after getting an emergency loan from the European Central Bank. To get the loan, the Greek Parliament voted to back a new round of austerity measures that include an increase in the value added tax.

Papoulis Panagiotis (ph) has been running a butcher shop in Athens since 1970. The increase in VAT taxes will raise the cost of the cheeses and meats he sells by 10 percent. But he says his customers are already hurting after five years of austerity, and rather than drive them away, he's decided to absorb the cost of the taxes himself.

PAPOULIS PANAGIOTIS: (Through interpreter) The VAT tax increase is going to affect people's buying power, but what's really hurting the market is people's insecurities and psychology. In order to function properly, the market needs stability and tranquility.

ZARROLI: But stability still seems a long way off. Palskivis Nikitis (ph), an eye doctor who came into the butcher shop, says ordinary Greeks are going to suffer as a result of the new austerity measures.

PALSKIVIS NIKITIS: What can you do? If you're not going to resign, you have to go out in the streets and burn Athens. I'm not going to do that. The right thing is to find a way - I don't know how - to go out of this crisis.

ZARROLI: Nikitis says everyone has an opinion about Greece, but no one really knows what to do. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, Athens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.
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