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Greek banks to reopen as Tsipras eyes new start

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras leaves the Presidential Palace escorted by newly appointed Energy Minister Panos Skourletis (right), manager of the PM political office Dimitris Tzanakopoulos (centre), government spokeswoman Olga Gerovassili (second from right) and Deputy Foreign Minister Sia Anagnostopoulou (left) in Athens, Greece yesterday. Photo:Yiannis Kourtoglou/Reuters

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras leaves the Presidential Palace escorted by newly appointed Energy Minister Panos Skourletis (right), manager of the PM political office Dimitris Tzanakopoulos (centre), government spokeswoman Olga Gerovassili (second from right) and Deputy Foreign Minister Sia Anagnostopoulou (left) in Athens, Greece yesterday. Photo:Yiannis Kourtoglou/Reuters

The Greek government ordered banks to open tomorrow, three weeks after they were shut down to prevent the system collapsing under a flood of withdrawals, as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras looked to the start of new bailout talks this week.

New ministers in Tsipras’ government were also sworn in yesterday after a reshuffle expelled dissidents from his Cabinet and began a new phase of negotiations for a third bailout package.

The decree to re-open the banks came hours after new ministers were sworn in following a Cabinet reshuffle in which Tsipras replaced dissident members of his ruling Syriza party following a revolt over the tough bailout terms.

In a move that marked a split with the main leftist faction in the ruling Syriza party, Tsipras sacked hardline former energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis and two deputy ministers following a party rebellion in which 39 Syriza lawmakers withheld support from the government over the package.

Panos Skourletis, a close Tsipras ally who left the labour ministry to take over the vital energy portfolio, said the reshuffle marked “an adjustment by the government to a new reality”.

The reshuffle allowed Tsipras to replace Cabinet rebels with allies of his own or from his junior coalition partners, the right-wing Independent Greeks party.

The first action of the new Cabinet was to sign off on a decree to reopen banks tomorrow with slightly more flexible withdrawal limits that allow a maximum of €420 a week in place of the strict limit of €60 a day currently in place.

But restrictions on transfers abroad and other capital controls remain in place.

The move had been widely expected after the European Central Bank agreed to re-open the emergency credit lines which the tottering Greek banking sector needs to survive.

Tsipras now intends to seal the bailout accord with European partners over the next few weeks before likely new elections which Interior Minister Nikos Voutsis said this week could happen in September or October.

“Our aim is to negotiate hard for the terms of the agreement, not just to seal it, but on how it will be implemented. There are many vague terms in the text,” said newly-appointed Labour Minister George Katrougalos.

He said the government, elected in January on an anti-austerity platform, would fight for an agreement that was “socially just” and dismissed suggestions that it would have to take on the powerful labour unions and risk street protests.

“The Left is with demonstrations. The Left wants the people on the streets,” he said.

The deal, approved with the support of Opposition parties on Thursday after 39 Syriza rebels withheld their backing, agrees a painful mix of tax hikes, spending curbs and pension cuts as well as a rollback of collective bargaining agreements.

In addition, €50 billion in public assets are to be placed in a special privatisation fund as collateral for loans of up to €86 billion that must be agreed with European partners.

Acceptance of the tough bailout terms marked a turnaround for Tsipras after months of acrimonious talks and a referendum that resoundingly rejected a less stringent deal proposed by the lenders. But opinion polls suggest the Prime Minister’s popularity remains high.

A poll published yesterday in the left-wing Efimerida Ton Syntaknon newspaper suggested Syriza would get 42.5 per cent of the vote if an election were held now, almost double conservative New Democracy’s 21.5 per cent. In addition, 70 per cent said they would prefer to accept the bailout deal if it kept Greece in the euro.

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