Cyprus eases controls on stricken banks

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Cyprus eased from Friday unprecedented eurozone capital controls it imposed to prevent a run on its stricken banking sector, ending restrictions on all transactions under $393,000.

But a daily cash withdrawal limit of 300 euros is to remain in place for at least the next seven days, the finance ministry decreed.

Relaxing the controls has been an urgent goal for the government to enable cash-starved businesses to pay staff and suppliers.

The ministry also raised the daily limit on transactions outside of the island not requiring prior approval from 5,000 to 20,000 euros.

Larger transactions that fall “within the normal business activity of the customer” will be permitted on a case-by-case basis with prior submission of the necessary paperwork.

Travellers leaving Cyprus will be allowed to take 2,000 euros with them, up from the previous cash limit of 1,000 euros posted in warnings at the island’ s airports that have been the most graphic display of the crisis for visiting holidaymakers and businessmen.

The relaxation of the controls came as Cypriot leaders gathered with their eurozone counterparts in Dublin to finalize the already crippling terms of the bailout that the government needs to prevent it defaulting on its debts within days.

Government spokesman Christos Stylianides acknowledged on Thursday that the cost of the bailout has ballooned to 23 billion euros ($30 billion), and international creditors expect Cyprus to find the 6.0 billion euro shortfall from its own resources.

Even before the funding gap emerged, Cyprus had been forced to wind up failed lender Laiki and impose a massive levy on larger deposits in Bank of Cyprus, the island’ s largest.

There had been talk that BoC customers with deposits of more than 100,000 euros could lose up to 60 percent of those holdings. That figure could now be even higher.

Those in Laiki will have to wait years to see any of their money over 100,000 euros.

The unprecedented eurozone “haircut” on deposits forced the government to close all the island’ s banks for nearly two weeks last month and impose draconian controls when they reopened.

With the island already facing years of austerity and a deep recession, the government is expected to resort to a series of emergency measures to make up the bailout shortfall.

It is set to raise 400 million euros through the sale of gold reserves, 600 million euros through a corporate tax rise, and further funding from privatization and a roll-over of debt held by Cypriot investors, including a 2.5 billion euro loan extended by Russia in 2011.

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