NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cypriot politicians moved Thursday to restructure the country's most troubled bank as part of a broader bailout plan that must be in place by Monday to avoid financial ruin. Concerned customers rushed to get cash from ATMs as bank employees protested.
Cyprus has been told it must raise $7.5 billion if it is to receive $12.9 billion from its fellow eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund. If it does not find a way by Monday, the European Central Bank said it will cut off emergency support to the banks, letting them collapse.
That would throw the country into financial chaos and, ultimately, cause it to leave the eurozone, with unpredictable consequences for the region.
Party leaders and the government were hashing out three new laws on Thursday night, ranging from restricting bank transactions to restructuring the most troubled bank, Cyprus Popular Bank, or Laiki.
The pressure has increased since lawmakers on Tuesday rejected an earlier proposal to seize up to 10 percent of people's bank accounts. Banks have been shut since last weekend to avoid a run and will not open until Tuesday at the earliest.
Uncertainty was growing among Cypriots as the deadline approached and reports spread that the country's second-largest bank would be restructured.
Lines of 40 to 50 people formed at the ATMs of Laiki, which responded by capping daily withdrawals at $340 per person from the previous $906. Although ATMs have been functioning, many often run out of cash.
"We need cash. We have families, children, grandchildren and expenses, and the banks have been closed since Saturday," said Andri Olympiou after withdrawing money from a Laiki branch in Nicosia, the capital.
The central bank governor, Panicos Demetriades, urged lawmakers to vote immediately on a legal framework bill to rehabilitate Cyprus' banking sector.
The bills include restructuring Laiki, a move that would raise an estimated $2.58 billion out of the total $7.5 billion euros Cyprus needs, according to local media.
Once it is done, the country would be in a position to guarantee all deposits up to $130,000 — the EU-wide limit for bank guarantees.
Officials said the restructuring would split Laiki into two, with a "bad bank" taking over its soured investments, and a "good bank" retaining the healthy ones.
Setting up a bad bank is a strategy that's been used before in Europe's financial crisis, by Ireland and Spain. A bad bank is tasked with recovering as much money as possible from the investments.
Without the restructure, Laiki would collapse and drag down the rest of the banking system and the economy, Demetriades said.
"The restructuring constitutes a significant step toward the achievement of an economic support agreement for the Cyprus Republic from the European support mechanism and the International Monetary Fund," Demetriades said.
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