Playing roulette at Nicosia bank ATMS
Queues grow at Laiki bank machines as some stores start refusing credit cards
People queue up to make a transaction at an ATM outside a branch of Laiki Bank in Nicosia.
The queue at the cash point at the Laiki Bank in Ayios Dhometios has been six to eight people long throughout the day and it takes about 15 minutes to get to the ATM.
The Hellenic Bank across the street has an occasional customer slotting in his or her card and punching in the pin number and the amount of cash on demand.
When asked why people queued at Laiki but not Hellenic, no one had an answer. Had they heard the rumour that Laiki would not replenish its ATMs after today?
“No, we’re here now because there was no money this morning,” stated Mike, who declined to give his family name.
Perhaps he came after the machine had been emptied by the initial round of withdrawals. The ever-changing queue of calm and patient people had formed from early morning in front of this tiny Laiki branch, veiled in green cloth due to renovations that may never be completed.
After explaining that I am a journalist from The Irish Times , I asked why is this happening to Cyprus ? “The gas,” chorused the people in the Laiki queue, “the gas and the Russia n money. They want the gas and the Russian money. They want to punish Cyprus because we have the gas and the Russian money.”
What if Russia offers to extract the gas? “No, we’re in the EU, we don’t want Russia to get our gas,” replied Mike, who had appointed himself spokesman for this relay in the queue.
“After four or five years, we’ll have enough money from the [offshore natural] gas to pay our debts. They can lend us the money and feel safe but they also want to make the Russian money go away,” argued Nikos, a newcomer in brown velvet jacket.
An American friend in chic black jacket, short skirt and high boots, her mobile phone to her ear, joined the queue.
“I got €140 this morning from the Hellenic ATM,” she said after closing the cover of her phone. “Let’s see what happens here.”
A short woman in a pink pullover said, “This one gives €700-€800.”
My friend tried for €500. The machine claimed insufficient funds.
“I know how much money there is, so it must be the bank that has insufficient funds,” she quipped, punching in €200, which slipped through the slot into her hand. The accompanying slip showed an available balance of more than €1,000 and a puzzling blocked amount of €465.
The American International School where she teaches has given staff the choice of being paid at the end of the month by a bank cheque, cash or a cheque on a US bank, she said before crossing the street to Hellenic where the machine rejected her request for cash.
“I got €140 this morning. We took the car for servicing today, I don’t know what we were thinking.”
She managed to send funds from a US account to her daughter, who is at university in Britain. Most Cypriots and foreign residents do not have this possibility.
A quick tour of the banks of Ayios Dhometios and Engomi, 2,000-year-old villages that are now suburbs of Nicosia, revealed that there were no queues at the main Co-operative Bank, Alpha Bank and Pireaus Bank and only a few customers at the Bank of Cyprus.
It was Laiki’s day for a run.
Down in the centre of the city,queues were long and it could take more than an hour to reach cash points.
No longer honoured
The check-out clerk at Carrefour in the Engomi mini-mall said Laiki cards would no longer be honoured after midday. But Alpha-Mega supermarket was still taking Visa cards.
Many shops are closing down because they have no customers. Cheques are being rejected. Costa, co-owner of Ithaca Fruiteria near my home, said: “We prefer cash. But we give credit to people we know.”
He keeps signed slips in a compartment in the drawer of his cash register.
Luscious strawberries – €3.50 a box on Monday – are now €1.45. The prices of other perishables have also plummeted. “People are buying only what they needed.”
No one knows how telephone, water and electricity bills paid monthly on instructions to banks will be settled. No one knows when and if they will be paid their salaries.
Panicked Laiki staff and clients have no idea how they will fare.