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Italians Begin Using Euros - 2002-01-01

Supplies of euros at automatic teller machines in Italy are likely to run out Tuesday as Italians rushed to withdraw the new currency.

Just two hours after midnight, 1,400 withdrawals had been registered at the Banca di Roma. Thousands of people, mainly youngsters, were curious to see what the new currency looked like.

"I wanted to check if it was all true," said Sabrina Fortunato after withdrawing 100 euros in Milan. "Until yesterday I thought it was all a strange dream, the fact that we would have a single currency to spend throughout Europe".

In his end of year address to the nation, Italy's president, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, hailed the arrival of the common European currency as a symbol of peace and unity. "Over and above its economic impact," Mr. Ciampi said, "it is a great sign of peace. It is concrete and definitive proof of the solemn pledge Europeans have taken to live together".

The president acknowledged that the outgoing Italian currency, the lira, would be remembered with some nostalgia. Though Italy is considered the most ardent supporter of European integration, many Italians say they will miss their currency with its many zeros. Others however admit that a single currency will make life easier, especially when traveling in Europe.

To pay homage to the lira, it has been proposed that a specific day every year be proclaimed Lira Day. The most likely date is February 28, the last day the old currency will circulate.

In addition, a group called the Third Millennium Celebrations Committee, backed by Italian film stars and VIPs, is planning to build a huge monument to the lira out of coins. Italians can take part in a competition to design the monument, which is due to be installed outside the Bank of Italy in Rome on Jan 1, 2003.