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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Anger intensified in India on Saturday as banks struggled to dispense cash following the government's decision to withdraw large denomination notes in an attempt to uncover billions of dollars in undeclared wealth.
Tempers frayed as hundreds of thousands of people queued for hours outside banks for a third day to swap 500 and 1,000 rupee bank notes after the notes were abolished earlier in the week.
The banned bills made up more than 80 percent of the currency in circulation, leaving millions of people without cash and threatening to bring much of the cash-driven economy to a halt.
"There's chaos everywhere," said Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, a rival of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, accusing the premier of wreaking havoc on poor and working Indians while the wealthy found ways to skirt the new rules.
Customers argued and banged the glass doors at a Standard Chartered branch in southern Delhi after security guards blocked the entrance, saying there were too many people inside already.
Others turned on Modi, criticizing his ongoing visit to Japan while ordinary people suffered at home.
"He is taking bullet train rides in Japan and here you have old people knocking on bank doors for cash," said Prabhat Kumar, a college student who said he had spent six hours in the queue. "He has made a terrible mistake."
Modi said he would pursue the fight against corruption and tax dodgers even if it meant scanning decades-old records.
"If unaccounted money is found out during the current clean up drive, accounts of tax evaders dating back to the country's independence in 1947 will be checked. If required I will hire people for this task," Modi told the Indian community in Kobe.
He said he recognized people faced difficulties as the transition to the new series of bank notes takes place but was confident they would stand by the decision as part of the war against corruption and to rid India of endemic poverty.
TRADERS STRUGGLE AS CASH CRUNCH BITES
Nearly half of India's 202,000 ATMs were shut on Friday and those that operated quickly ran out of the new notes as scores of people descended upon them.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley said ATMs had not been adjusted to handle new currency notes prior to the announcement in order to keep it under wraps. "Recalibration of ATMs will be completed within two weeks," he added.
Referring to inconvenience caused to public, Jaitley said there could be some, short-term disruptive cost to the economy due to the demonetization drive but this would prove positive in the longer term.
Traders in Delhi's vegetable market said they were considering shutting down the market as cash was running out and banks were dispensing a limited amount.