Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Cyprus Rejects Bank Tax

Cyprus overwhelmingly rejected a proposed levy on bank deposits as a condition for a European bailout on Tuesday, throwing international efforts to rescue the latest casualty of the euro zone debt crisis into disarray.

The vote in the tiny legislature was a stunning setback for the 17-nation currency bloc, angering European partners and raising fears the crisis could spread; lawmakers in Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy have all accepted austerity measures over the last three years to secure European aid.

With hundreds of demonstrators outside the parliament, the ruling party abstained and 36 other lawmakers voted unanimously to reject the bill, bringing the Mediterranean island, one of the smallest European states, to the brink of financial meltdown.

Finance Minister Michael Sarris had already headed to Moscow, amid speculation Russia could offer assistance given the high level of Russian deposits in Cypriot banks.

EU countries had warned they would withhold 10 billion euros ($13 billion) in bailout loans unless depositors in Cyprus, including small savers, shared the cost of the rescue, an unprecedented step in the stubborn debt crisis.

But lawmakers said the levy on deposits crossed a red line.

International market reaction has been muted so far but that might change.

Banks in Cyprus are to remain shut on Wednesday to avoid a bank run. The island's stock exchange will also be closed on Wednesday.
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