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At Last, Banks Reopen In Greece After 3 Long Weeks

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Greeks have spent the past three weeks unable to withdraw more than about $70 a day from their banks, and only from ATMs, because the banks were closed. This morning Joanna Kakissis was on the scene in Athens as banks reopened, thanks to financing from the European Central Bank.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Thanassis Papanikolaou left his bank branch in central Athens this morning looking relieved. The photo supply salesman had just paid a slew of bills, something he had not been able to do in three weeks.

THANASSIS PAPANIKOLAOU: (Speaking Greek).

KAKISSIS: "I was especially concerned about my rent, which had been due at the beginning of the month, just after the banks had closed suddenly" he says. "But I transferred money to my landlord for this month's rent, and next month's too." Though banks are open, there are still limits on withdrawing money. Deputy Finance Minister Dimitris Mardas says cash withdrawals from Greek banks are still limited to 60 euros per day - just under $70.

DIMITRIS MARDAS: (Speaking Greek).

KAKISSIS: "But in a slight relaxing of rules," he says, "people can now take a week's worth of euros at a time, instead of standing in line every day." Banking analyst Manos Giakoumis says he expects these limits on banking activity, called capital controls, to remain in place for several weeks. He also says some of the four main Greek banks may be forced to merge as the economy, which had improved slightly last year, continues to nosedive.

MANOS GIAKOUMIS: Before capital controls, we were talking about zero growth, or marginal growth up to .5 percent. Now most estimates point to a recession in excess of 3 or 5 percent.

KAKISSIS: At another bank branch in western Athens, 62-year-old construction worker Kostas Economou deposited his wages and said tough days lay ahead for Greece.

KOSTAS ECONOMOU: (Speaking Greek).

KAKISSIS: "Even though they are still under some controls, at least the banks are open" he says. "I'm hoping that's a sign of progress, that things are improving day by day." Hope dies last, as they say. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.