They want to humiliate us, to destroy our dignity, say protesters

Angry mobs lower the German flag and draw swastikas in anti-EU demonstrations

"They're robbing us, they want our savings, they want to humiliate us, to destroy our dignity – and all this for the EU and IMF," said 45-year-old Maro Pashali, one of hundreds of protesters who gathered outside the Cypriot parliament in Nicosia yesterday in protest at the country's bailout deal. Demonstrators showed their anger by climbing a pole outside the building to lower the German flag, while others brandished placards bearing a European Union insignia with the stars drawn in the shape of swastikas. Some called for a referendum – the right to decide on their future independently of "German diktats" – as young men with scarves hid their faces and chanted anti-German slogans.

As their politicians were attempting to renegotiate the EU/IMF deal to make the terms more favourable to smaller savers, many in the crowd were wondering whether there was not a better way.

Former Foreign Minister and politician Giorgos Lilikas, who attended the protest, told The Independent: "There was another solution which was to offer our natural resources in exchange for help from Europe. If we have to put our banks as a warranty, we don't need the Troika, we can do it on our own."

Eleni Nikodimou, an 60-year old artist accused the European Union officials of being "crooks". "They've destroyed our lives, so we're here to put pressure on Europe." She said she was hoping to remove all her savings as soon as the banks opened again.

Desperate Cypriots have been rushing to ATMs since Saturday morning in desperate attempts to salvage some of their savings. But cash machines are being quickly depleted, adding to the sense of confusion and panic on the streets.

Bank transfers have also been suspended since the weekend, creating massive headaches for ordinary people and businesses alike. A Belgian who has been working in Nicosia for the past 20 years worried that all these measures would be a "fatal blow" to his shipping business. Raphael Ryckx's company pays contractors on behalf of his non-Cypriot clients, but due to the current freeze on transfers his company is unable to carry out the required transactions. Not only will he not be able to pay his contractors on time, his clients' funds are likely to be taxed under the new bill because they were temporarily kept in a Cypriot bank.

"I'm not surprised if our clients no longer want to do business with us," he said. "We're meant to pay contractors and so many others companies on behalf of our clients – money transfers we can't carry out.

"This is an incomplete, incompetent and imperfect decision."

Other Cypriots took a more sober approach to the crisis. Kiriakos, a 72-year-old taxi driver, said. "I lost my home and so much more during the 1974 invasion. Now my savings are being threatened again by our supposed friends – the Europeans. I love my country and want to help as I can, but I'm not to blame for this mess."