Police sent to quell trouble in the pension queues of Naples

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The Independent Online

A strike by bank and post office employees in France caused little of the anticipated chaos yesterday but bank branches everywhere in Euroland were besieged by customers eager to switch money.

Police had to be called to a post office in Naples to quell angry customers. The main cause of the hold-ups was the vast numbers of pensions, mostly paid in cash.

Naples police inspector Giuseppe Visone said patrols were sent to six post offices and two banks to keep the crowds under control. "With the long wait, people were a little anxious and exasperated," Mr Visone said. "We were just there to allay their fears."

The transactions were slower than normal because some pensioners asked clerks to explain the new exchange rate and some pressed to be paid in lire, not euros.

In Germany almost everybody went to the bank and cash machines were stormed as Germans effortlessly switched currencies, confounding predictions of chaos. Four times as much cash was withdrawn in Berlin as would be on a normal day.

One Deutsche Bank branch briefly locked its doors for security. Oliver Froehlich, euro-transition team leader at the Frankfurter Volksbank, said: "People are coming in, emptying their wallets on to the table and saying, 'I want euros'." The manager of a Berliner Volksbank branch said: "We've had a stampede all morning. We have twice the usual number of staff on duty, so we are able to keep waiting times to 10 minutes."

At a retail branch of the Dutch bank ABN Amro in central Amsterdam, clients stood 50-deep before a makeshift sign reading: "You can still deposit guilders in your account until April 1, 2002. As the waiting time is a minimum two and a half hours we recommend you make your transaction on another day."

The entire network of 2,600 stand-alone cash machines shut down for about an hour in Austria, but the company that runs the machines said the failure was due to a computer memory failure, not to the euro switch or the large number of transactions, and the network was later restored.

In France, only a minority of bank workers are union members and not all those obeyed the call to strike in pursuit of a "euro bonus" and higher pay. The high street bank chains were hardly touched, but Société Générale was forced to close a fifth of its 2,500 branches. A postal workers' strike caused a few offices to close in Paris but had little impact in the provinces.