Greeks hit by closed banks, warnings from eurozone

As Greece Nears Default, Investors Try Not to Panic

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Anxious pensioners swarmed closed bank branches Monday and long lines snaked outside ATMs as Greeks endured the first day of serious controls on their daily economic lives ahead of a July 5 referendum that could determine whether the country has to ditch the euro currency and return to the drachma.

As strict capital controls took root following Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' surprise weekend decision to call a referendum on international creditors' latest economic proposals, Greece's population tried to fathom the sheer scale of the impact on their day-to-day existence.

Following a breakdown in talks between Greece and its creditors, the country is in the midst of the one of the most acute financial crises seen anywhere in the world in years. It's running out of time to get the money it needs to stave off bankruptcy.

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Greeks hit by closed banks, warnings from eurozone
ATHENS, GREECE - JULY 03: Pensioners without ATM cards wait in queue outside a bank branch to withdraw money from their pension funds on July 03, 2015 in Athens, Greece. (Photo by Salih Baran/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Pensioners wait outside a closed branch of the Greek National bank in Thessaloniki on June 29, 2015 as Greece ordered its banks to shut for one week and imposed capital controls today, sending markets tumbling after its citizens emptied ATMs on the eve of a potentially disastrous default. In a ray of hope, creditors left the door open to Greece for a last-ditch debt deal, in order to try and avert a dangerous default that could spark a Greek eurozone exit and raise serious questions about the future of the European Union. AFP PHOTO / SAKIS MITROLIDIS (Photo credit should read SAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - JUNE 29: People wait in line to withdraw 60 euros from an ATM after Greece closed its banks on June 29, 2015 in Athens, Greece. Greece closed its banks and imposed capital controls on Sunday to monitor the growing strains on its crippled financial system, bringing the prospect of being forced out of the euro into plain sight. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
A man withdraws the withdrawal limit of 60 euros at an ATM machine in Thessaloniki on June 29, 2015 as Greece ordered its banks to shut for one week and imposed capital controls today, sending markets tumbling after its citizens emptied ATMs on the eve of a potentially disastrous default. In a ray of hope, creditors left the door open to Greece for a last-ditch debt deal, in order to try and avert a dangerous default that could spark a Greek eurozone exit and raise serious questions about the future of the European Union. AFP PHOTO / SAKIS MITROLIDIS (Photo credit should read SAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Pensioners queue outside a closed branch of the Greek National bank in Thessaloniki on June 29, 2015 as Greece ordered its banks to shut for one week and imposed capital controls today, sending markets tumbling after its citizens emptied ATMs on the eve of a potentially disastrous default. In a ray of hope, creditors left the door open to Greece for a last-ditch debt deal, in order to try and avert a dangerous default that could spark a Greek eurozone exit and raise serious questions about the future of the European Union. AFP PHOTO / SAKIS MITROLIDIS (Photo credit should read SAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Foreign anti-EU activists protest in front of the Greek parliament in Athens, during a demonstration calling for 'NO' at referendum and for Greece's exit from the eurozone on June 28, 2015. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras stunned Europe late Friday with a surprise call for a July 5 referendum on the latest cash-for-reforms package and advised voters against backing a deal that he said spelled further 'humiliation'..AFP PHOTO / LOUISA GOULIAMAKI (Photo credit should read LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - JUNE 28: People wait in a queue in front of a bank's ATM to withdraw their cash in Athens, Greece on June 28, 2015. Greeks are anxious about whether the European Central Bank will increase the emergency liquidity assistance, banks can draw on from the country's central bank or not. (Photo by Ayhan Mehmet/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - JUNE 21: Protesters attend an anti-austerity pro-government rally in front of the parliament building on June 21, 2015 in Athens, Greece. Greece's leftwing government believes it can reach a deal with its creditors on Monday. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - JUNE 21: Greek Presidential Guard conducts his ceremonial march as protesters attend an anti-austerity pro-government rally in front of the parliament building on June 21, 2015 in Athens, Greece. Greece's leftwing government believes it can reach a deal with its creditors on Monday. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - JUNE 21: Protesters attend an anti-austerity pro-government rally in front of the parliament building in Athens, Greece, June 21, 2015. Greece's leftwing government believes it can reach a deal with its creditors on Monday. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - JUNE 3: A Greek flag billows in the wind on the Acropolis Hill on June 3, 2015, in Athens, Greece. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is expected to be presented with the international creditors' plan of tough economic reforms for Greece in order to unlock 7.2 billion Euros of rescue loans later today. It is unclear whether Greece will accept the offer, as Tsipras has previously called for his own proposals to be considered by the creditors (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - JUNE 15: View of the index in the Hellenic Exchange office on June 15, 2015 in Athens, Greece. The European Commission has said that Greece and its international creditors need to come to an agreement within the next 2 weeks to avoid a possible default, after weekend talks collapsed. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - JUNE 15:.Woman pass by Hellenic Exchange office in Athens on June 15, 2015 in Athens, Greece. The European Commission has said that Greece and its international creditors need to come to an agreement within the next 2 weeks to avoid a possible default, after weekend talks collapsed. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images))
ATHENS, GREECE - JUNE 15: View of the index in the Hellenic Exchange office on June 15, 2015 in Athens, Greece. The European Commission has said that Greece and its international creditors need to come to an agreement within the next 2 weeks to avoid a possible default, after weekend talks collapsed. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
A woman walks past Bank of Greece headquarters in central Athens on June 15, 2015. Athens will patiently wait until its creditors become realistic, Greece's premier said, a day after last-ditch talks between the two sides collapsed and raised fears that Athens would default and exit the eurozone. AFP PHOTO/ LOUISA GOULIAMAKI (Photo credit should read LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - JUNE 15: Locals visit the Green market on June 15 2015 in Athens, Greece. The European Commission has said that Greece and its international creditors need to come to an agreement within the next 2 weeks to avoid a possible default, after weekend talks collapsed. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - JUNE 15: Pensioners play backgammon in front of closed shop on June 15, 2015 in Athens, Greece. The European Commission has said that Greece and its international creditors need to come to an agreement within the next 2 weeks to avoid a possible default, after weekend talks collapsed. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - JUNE 15: Women buy on cheep clothing at a flea market on June 15 2015 in Athens, Greece. The European Commission has said that Greece and its international creditors need to come to an agreement within the next 2 weeks to avoid a possible default, after weekend talks collapsed. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
A man walks past graffiti featuring the word 'Time' but using the Euro sign in place of the letter 'e'on a wall in Athens on June 15, 2015. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras insisted in an oped piece in a Greek newspaper on June 15, 2015 that Athens would 'wait patiently' until the International Monetary Fund and the European Union became 'more realistic', a day after last-ditch talks between the two sides collapsed, bringing the threat of a Greek exit from the euro closer than ever. AFP PHOTO/ LOUISA GOULIAMAKI (Photo credit should read LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)
An elderly men stands outside the Athens central market on June 15, 2015. Athens will patiently wait until its creditors become realistic, Greece's premier said, a day after last-ditch talks between the two sides collapsed and raised fears that Athens would default and exit the eurozone. AFP PHOTO/ Louisa Gouliamaki (Photo credit should read LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - JUNE 15: Local people pass by graffiti that says 'Greece vs Everybody' on June 15, 2015 in Athens, Greece. The European Commission has said that Greece and its international creditors need to come to an agreement within the next 2 weeks to avoid a possible default, after weekend talks collapsed. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
People read newspaper's headlines in central Athens on June 15, 2015. Athens will patiently wait until its creditors become realistic, Greece's premier said, a day after last-ditch talks between the two sides collapsed and raised fears that Athens would default and exit the eurozone. AFP PHOTO/ Louisa Gouliamaki (Photo credit should read LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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That has stoked fears of a crippling bank run, a messy Greek debt default and an exit from the euro. As a result, the country's government imposed strict capital controls, none more onerous than a daily allowance of a measly 60 euros ($67) at the ATM.

The sense of unease was palpable among the crowds of pensioners who lined up outside bank branches hoping they might open. Many elderly Greeks don't have ATM cards and make cash withdrawals in person, and so found themselves completely cut off from their money.

"I came here at 4 a.m. because I have to get my pension," said 74-year-old Anastasios Gevelidis, one of about 100 retirees waiting outside the main branch of the National Bank of Greece in the country's second-largest city of Thessaloniki.

"I don't have a card. I don't know what's going on. We don't even have enough money to buy bread," he said.

The capital controls come ahead of a big 1.6 billion-euro payment Greece has to make to the International Monetary Fund. It's unlikely to be able to pay that without financial assistance.

Greece's bailout program with its European creditors officially expires Tuesday, meaning the country will not have access to any of the money still available if it doesn't secure a deal.

For months, the left-wing-led Greek government, elected in January on a promise to bring an end to the hated austerity that it blames for an acute economic recession, has failed to agree on a package of spending cuts and reforms demanded by creditors in exchange for access to the remaining 7.2 billion euros ($8.1 billion) in rescue loans.

Greece's GDP (current USD) - 10 Year | FindTheData

The sight of an economy on the precipice hit global markets hard Monday. In Europe, the Stoxx 50 index of leading shares ended 2.5 percent lower, while Germany's DAX slid 3.6 percent. There were also some early warning signs that Greece's problems may prove contagious - the borrowing rates of other highly indebted eurozone countries such as Italy and Portugal inched up slightly.

Meanwhile, Standard & Poor's rating agency cut Greece's credit rating further into junk status, saying it now sees a 50-percent chance of Greece leaving the eurozone. The Greek government's decision to hold a referendum is a sign it "will prioritize domestic politics over financial and economic stability, commercial debt payments and eurozone membership," it said in a statement

Investors are worried that should Greece leave the euro and say it can't pay its debts, which stand at more than 300 billion euros, it will be forced into a chaotic return to the drachma - developments that could derail a fragile global economic recovery, as well as raise questions over the long-term viability of the euro currency itself.

"The major market concern is that if Greece were to default and/or exit, then it might encourage others to do the same," said Gary Jenkins, chief credit strategist at LNG Capital. "Thus it puts the entire eurozone project at risk of collapse."

Tsipras is advocating Greeks reject the proposals in the referendum, which increasingly has the look of a vote on euro membership itself.

That message was hammered home by European leaders.

"I'd like to ask the Greek people to vote `Yes.' ... I very much like the Greeks, and I'd say to them, `You should not commit suicide because you are afraid of death,'" European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in an emotional speech against a backdrop of giant Greek and EU flags.

Negotiations with Greece were not dead, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her deputy insisted - as long as Greeks support that path in the July 5 vote.

"It must be crystal clear what is being decided: It is essentially the question, yes or not to remaining in the eurozone," German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said.

Throughout Greece, massive queues formed at gas stations, with worried motorists seeking to fill up their tanks and pay with credit cards while they were still being accepted.

Although credit and cash card transactions have not been restricted, many retailers were not accepting card transactions Monday.

Electronic transfers and bill payments are allowed, but only within Greece. The government also stressed the controls would not affect foreign tourists, who would have no limits on cash withdrawals with foreign bank cards.

For emergency needs, such as importing medicine or sending remittances abroad, the Greek Treasury was creating a Banking Transactions Approval Committee to examine requests on a case-by-case basis.

Tsipras announced the capital controls in a televised address Sunday, blaming eurozone finance ministers for their rejection of an extension request to the bailout program.

The referendum decision, which has been ratified by Parliament, shocked and angered Greece's European partners.

In Greece, citizens were dividing into two camps - with most of the opposition backing a "Yes" vote in the referendum.

"If you want to stay in the euro, vote yes ... If you want banks to open, vote yes ... And most important, if you want to stay in Europe, vote yes," former prime minister Antonis Samaras told lawmakers.

Chanting "Take the bailout and go!" thousands of pro-government protesters gathered outside parliament late Monday to back the government's call to vote "No."

"The government tried too hard to get this agreement. But the creditors kept asking for more," said pensioner Satroula Noutsou. "I don't know what else we are supposed to do."

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