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Greek banks reopen as citizens face massive price hikes

Greeks will be able to withdraw up to €420 at once per week.

Greece Bailout The first customers, most of them pensioners, enter a branch at the National Bank of Greece headquarters in Athens. Thanassis Stavrakis / AP/PA Thanassis Stavrakis / AP/PA / AP/PA

GREEK BANKS REOPENED this morning after a three-week shutdown, but capital controls remained largely in place while citizens also face widespread price hikes.

The shutdown is estimated to have cost the economy some €3 billion in market shortages and export disruption, with a block on money transfers to foreign banks and a ban on the opening of new accounts still active.

Greeks will be able to withdraw up to €420 at once per week, sparing people the ordeal of queuing daily at ATMs in the summer heat, which thousands did for just €60 per day.

Greece Bailout Petros Giannakouris / AP/PA Petros Giannakouris / AP/PA / AP/PA

The government is meanwhile expected to make a 4.2-billion euro payment today to the European Central Bank (ECB), made possible by the granting of a short-term loan of €7.16 billion by the European Union on Friday.

The loan will also enable Athens to repay debts to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) outstanding since June.

Greece last week had to agree to a tough fiscal package to earn a three-year bailout from its international creditors and avoid crashing out of the eurozone.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday reiterated Berlin’s tough stance ruling out debt forgiveness for Greece, but added that her government was open to more flexibility in Athens’ repayment schedule.

Markus Schreiber / PA Markus Schreiber / PA / PA

Crisis-hit Greeks will now be taxed at 23 percent, up from 13 percent, on everything from sugar and cocoa to condoms, taxis and funerals.

To sweeten the pill, the tax on medicines, books and newspapers eases from 6.5 percent to 6.0 percent.

For the first time in months, technical teams representing the creditors — the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — are expected in Athens in the coming week to assess the state of the economy.

The austerity package caused a mutiny among lawmakers of the ruling radical Syriza party, forcing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to carry out a limited reshuffle on Friday.

Even so, most analysts and even government officials say early elections are now inevitable, and are likely to be held in September.

Germany Greece Bailout Demonstrators hold a poster against the austerity prior to a special session of the parliament Bundestag on negotiations with Greece. Markus Schreiber Markus Schreiber

Merkel’s red line

The premier’s critics accuse him of kowtowing to blackmail by Greece’s creditors, who had threatened to expel the country from the euro.

But the Greek crisis has also exposed a rift between the eurozone’s top powers, Germany and France, on how far to apply austerity to meet fiscal goals.

Merkel held her country’s tough line on any chance of debt restructuring, telling public broadcaster ARD that “there can’t be a classic haircut — forgiving 30 or 40 percent of debt — in a monetary union”.

But she noted that Greece had received other forms of debt relief in recent years including a “voluntary writedown for private creditors, extended maturities and lower interest rates”.

“We can discuss possibilities along those lines again,” she said.

French President Francois Hollande called for the euro’s governance to be “strengthened”, calling for “the addition of a specific budget and a parliament to ensure democratic control”.

Commentators say the lack of centralised governance over national fiscal policies — a jealously-guarded area of sovereignty for member governments — is a major flaw in the single European currency.

‘Crash test’

Meanwhile Tsipras — who barely has time to eat or sleep, according to his mother — faces a fresh challenge in parliament on Wednesday to approve a second wave of reforms tied to its economic rescue.

Greece Bailout Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras takes an orange juice during a swearing in ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Athens. Thanassis Stavrakis / AP/PA Thanassis Stavrakis / AP/PA / AP/PA

Pro-government newspaper Avgi on Sunday said the vote would be a “crash test” that could even result in the prime minister’s resignation.

“If there are new losses, in whatever form, (Tsipras) will hand back his mandate,” the daily said.

Tsipras’ coalition holds 162 seats in parliament, but in last Wednesday’s vote, only 123 government MPs backed the bailout — just over the minimum 120 required to sustain a minority government.

Nearly a quarter of Syriza’s lawmakers — 39 out of 149 — failed to support the reforms bill, which passed thanks to solid support from opposition parties.

The leftist government has agreed to raise taxes, overhaul its ailing pension system and commit to privatisations it had previously opposed, in exchange for a bailout of up to €86 billion over the next three years.

- © AFP 2015.

Read: Homeless in Athens: ‘Greece never dies. But the Greeks will die.’>

Read: Greek banks to re-open on Monday with a €60 daily withdrawal limit>

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