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Italy battles to accept euro

ROME, Italy -- Strains have emerged in Italy over the birth of the euro, with long queues outside banks, stations and post offices, and citizens complaining about a shortage of coins.

In Brussels, the European Commission said only three percent of Italy's cash transactions on January 2 were in euros -- the lowest in the eurozone -- with France and the Netherlands at the top with 50 percent and the average at 20 percent.

While one commission spokesman pointed out it was not a race, another said it was not surprising that Italy was so far behind, since fewer cash dispensers were converted ahead of the changeover and many businesses chose not to receive euros in advance.

Strains also emerged in the Italian government on Thursday, as Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero attacked cabinet colleagues for belittling the ambitious project.

CNN's Richard Quest reports people in Frankfurt, Germany, are slowly but surely adapting to using the new Euro currency (January 1)

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Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's office tried to calm nerves by issuing a statement which hailed the creation of the euro and stressed the prime minister's pro-European credentials.

But it added EU member states had to debate where Europe should go now.

Long queues

At Rome's central station many missed their trains as the queue to buy tickets was up to one-and-a-half hours long.

Automated ticket machines were not functioning and travel agents were initially unable to issue tickets because the software the state rail company had issued them failed to work.

"Italy works little and badly," declared La Stampa newspaper in a front-page editorial on Thursday under the heading "Always the last in the class."

While things were settling down on Thursday, the second working day of the year, post offices and banks were still brimming with angry customers.

The Italian Banking Association said cash machine transactions were up 50 percent on Wednesday from the same day last year, but that was still far below the rest of the euro zone where activity was up by 200-300 percent.

"It's hopeless, but there's nothing I can do, I've got to collect my pension," Clara Pietrapaolo, 76, told Reuters as she waited in a one-hour line at a central Rome post office.

At a nearby bank a woman sat clutching ticket "151" giving her a place in line. But the electronic board clicked "96" for the next customer. She had already waited half an hour.

"I'm for the euro and everything, but this is ridiculous," she told Reuters, not giving name. "I'm sure it will improve in the days ahead, but the Germans have been very efficient from the beginning, haven't they?"

Some of the worst affected have been Italy's pensioners, with benefits pay-day for senior citizens almost coinciding with E-day.

On Wednesday lines up to four hours long were reported in some areas of the country as pensioners picked up their cheques and there were complaints that the value on the new coins was printed too faintly for the poorly-sighted to see.


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