COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) _ Carmike Cinemas Inc., the nation's third largest movie theater chain, filed for bankruptcy Tuesday.

The Columbus-based theater chain, which has 2,815 screens at 439 theaters in small and medium-sized cities, filed for protection from debtors under Chapter 11 of U.S. bankruptcy law to gain time to refinance its debt.

Last week, Carmike shares lost more than half their value after one of the company's banks blocked a $9 million interest payment Carmike was to make Aug. 1 on senior notes.

The lender, which analysts have identified as Wachovia Corp., declared Carmike in default of its credit agreements because the company fell out of technical compliance with terms of its loans. That allowed it to block the payment.

The company's shares plummeted to a 52-week low of $1.31 before recovering slightly. Carmike shares rose about 3 percent, or 0.062 cents, Tuesday to $2 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Carmike said it will stop developing new theaters, curtail its theater renovations, freeze expenditures and try to sell surplus assets. The bankruptcy will not affect operations of Carmike's existing theaters, spokeswoman Suzanne Brown said.

Banks such as Wachovia have been working to reduce its risk in the theater exhibition industry, which has been hit with a glut of new theaters that have outpaced demand, said Michael Florin, an analyst with Gerard Klauer Mattison and Co.

``This is more to do with the state of the industry than anything specific to Carmike,'' Florin said. ``The banks are looking at the industry and getting nervous.''

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On the Net: http://www.carmike.com