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Rightwing chief wins Cyprus poll vowing bailout deal

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Rightwinger Nicos Anastasiades romped to victory in Cyprus' presidential vote Sunday, pledging to secure an "earliest possible" bailout for the financially crippled EU state and winning support from the European Commission chief.

Replacing the only communist president in the European Union, the leader of the right-wing Disy party won 57.5 percent of the vote in a second round run-off against communist-backed Stavros Malas, who polled 42.5 percent, final results showed.

"We intend to discuss and cooperate ... with our European partners so as to achieve the earliest possible completion of the MoU (bailout) agreement in a manner that safeguards vulnerable groups, social cohesion and peaceful labour relations," he said in a victory address.

"We will implement an ambitious programme of structural changes and reforms both in the state and in our economy," Anastasiades said.

"Cyprus belongs in Europe. We will restore our credibility in the European and international arena."

Disy spokesman Tassos Mitsopoulos said Anastasiades had been given "a clear and strong mandate to battle for Cyprus," in upcoming negotiations with Brussels over the terms of an estimated 17-billion-euro ($23-billion) bailout package.

The result sparked instant celebrations as a large flag-waving crowd gathered outside the winner's Nicosia headquarters and supporters honked car horns and set off firecrackers across the capital.

The 66-year-old, who takes over at the end of the month, said during his campaign he will accept harsh measures required to secure a bailout from the eurozone and IMF, while Malas campaigned on a pro-bailout but anti-austerity ticket.

"The Cypriot people have given Mr Anastasiades a strong mandate to implement his programme of reform and to do what it takes to ensure fiscal and financial sustainability," European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said in a statement.

"I have assured him that he can count on the continued commitment of the European Commission to assist Cyprus to overcome the challenges it faces.

The election was closely watched in the other 16 members of the Eurozone, whose finance ministers had deferred a decision on the proposed bailout until negotiations take place with the new leader.

The vote came against a backdrop of grim economic news, with the European Commission predicting the Cyprus economy will shrink 3.5 percent in 2013 after a 2.3 percent contraction last year.

It said the economy would continue to shrink until 2016.

Unemployment reached 14.7 percent in January, having more than doubled over the previous 18 months as recession crippled the construction and service industries.

Anastasiades took 45.46 percent of the vote in a first round on February 17 but was forced into a second round against second-placed Malas after falling short of the 50 percent required to secure an outright victory.

The election is seen as one of the most important since independence from Britain in 1960, and unlike previous polls on the normally affluent island it focused on the economy rather than reunification with the Turkish Cypriots.

With the election of Anastasiades, who has close ties with Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, "there are chances of a good climate and understanding between Nicosia and Brussels," said political analyst Christopheros Christophorou.

President Demetris Christofias, who heads the powerful Akel party and now hands over on February 28, sought a bailout last June and talks have dragged on as the outgoing leader resisted EU pressure to privatise profitable state companies.

The international community will also expect the next Greek Cypriot leader to pick up the pieces of a deadlocked UN push for reconciling both sides of the island.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and seized its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130224/rightwing-chief-wins-cyprus-poll-vowing-bailout-deal