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Customers queue at Egypt banks

An anti-government demonstrator prays with a make-shift protective covering over his head at Tahrir Square in Cairo.(REUTERS)

By Reuters

A steady stream of employees flowed into Cairo's financial district and customers queued to access their accounts on Sunday, the first day for the country's banks to open after a week-long closure due to political protests.

Bankers are bracing for chaos in dealing rooms with foreign investors and local businessmen fleeing the Egyptian pound after the street protests paralysed much of the economy and dried up important sources of foreign exchange.

Armoured personnel carriers stood guard at intersections where soldiers had erected sandbag barriers, as buses dropped employees off at large state banks.

Outside the banks, dozens of customers were waiting to enter when they open for public business at 10:00 a.m. (0800 GMT).

"We have to have some order around here. People are anxious to get paid and pull money out. It has been almost two weeks and life is at a standstill," said Metwali Sha'ban, a volunteer making a list of customers to organise who would enter first.

With the political crisis still unresolved, banks may see panicky withdrawals of cash by Egyptians worried that access to their deposits could be restricted again.

Banks may also be nervous to trade with each other in the domestic money markets, a source of funding for them.

Some 341 bank branches, including 152 in Cairo, are opening across the country.

In nearby Tahrir Square, the focal point of nearly two weeks of protests against President Hosni Mubarak, soldiers were opening the doors of the main government administrative building, the Mugamma.

A line of Egyptians was lining up at doors in the back of the building that does not face onto the square.