Cypriot protestors outside the parliament in the capital, Nicosia, on Tuesday.
Cypriot leaders held crisis talks on Wednesday to avert financial meltdown after rejecting the terms of a controversial European Union bailout, turning instead to Russia for help.
Banks on the Mediterranean island may never reopen, Germany warned after lawmakers late Tuesday turned down a $12.9 billion deal that would have seen Cypriots lose up to 10 per cent of their bank deposits.
Thousands of Cypriots withdrew savings over the weekend fearing the deal might pass, emptying ATMs and sending global money markets into a steep dive.
Banks were ordered to remain closed after finance officials predicted a run on savings and a huge outflow of capital if they were to reopen.
Cypriot Finance Minister Michael Sarris outside the Russian Finance Ministry in Moscow on Wednesday.
Greek media reports suggested the Cyprus Popular Bank had been sold to Russian investors, but the Cypriot government denied such a deal, Reuters said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the ball was now in Cyprus’ court. “I regret the vote of the parliament yesterday,” she told reporters. “But of course we respect it and will now look to see what proposals Cyprus makes.
“From a political point of view, I say that Cyprus needs a sustainable banking sector. Today’s banking sector is not sustainable,” she added.
Even before the deal was rejected, Cypriot Finance Minister Michalis Sarris was already in Moscow working on an alternative plan to extend loans by using the island’s natural resources as a guarantee, according to English-language Cyprus Mail newspaper.
The crisis leaves the 17-nation Euro currency zone in uncharted territory: Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy have all accepted austerity cuts in return for aid.
Cyprus’ parliament rejected the deal late Tuesday when 36 lawmakers voted unanimously against it and the ruling party abstained, Reuters reported. Outside the parliament, hundreds demonstrated, chanting: “They’re drinking our blood.”
“The voice of the people was heard,” jubilant 65-year-old retiree Andreas Miltiadou told Reuters after the vote.
To help pay for the $13 billion European bailout, the government plans to take up to 10 percent from all savings accounts, angering those who say they aren’t responsible for the economic crisis. CNBC’s Sue Herera reports.
President Nicos Anastasiades was due to meet party leaders Wednesday morning, the BBC said.
Ivan Tchakarov, chief economist at Renaissance Capital, told CNBC that Russia, which was enraged by the unexpected European deal, could step in to save Cyprus from total financial collapse.
“This situation presents a fantastic opportunity for Russia and even President Putin to take moral high ground and to extend another loan to Cyprus and to become a savior of Europe,” he told CNBC in Moscow.
“At the end of the day we’re only talking about an additional seven to eight billion dollars of additional money that is needed to have a complete package for Cyprus, this is small change for Russia.”
Russian citizens account for the majority of the billions of euros held in Cypriot banks by foreign depositors.
Russia wasn’t the only critic of the deal, which was greeted with widespread dismay among global money markets. In an editorial, Bloomberg said it was the “worst” decision of the entire regional financial crisis, while the Economist panned it as “unfair, short-sighted and self-defeating.”
Reuters contributed to this report.