Cypriot conservative romps to presidential victory

NICOSIA (REUTERS) - Cypriot conservative leader Nicos Anastasiades won an overwhelming victory in a presidential run-off election on Sunday, boosting hopes of a swift financial rescue for the near-bankrupt island nation.

Tiny Cyprus has emerged as a big headache for the euro zone in recent months, triggering fears the island may plunge into a financial meltdown that will reignite the bloc's debt crisis. A bailout has proved elusive eight months since talks began.

Mr Anastasiades, who has pledged to hammer out a quick deal with foreign lenders, took 57.5 per cent of the vote, 15 points ahead of his communist-backed rival Stavros Malas, who campaigned on an anti-austerity platform.

Jubilant supporters waved Greek and Cypriot flags, honked car horns and set off flares in Nicosia as the results came in.

"It's a triumph," said Mr Stefanos Stefanou, a 62-year-old pensioner as he stood outside Mr Anastasiades's campaign offices. "I won't have the fear of losing my pension and benefits now, along with what we earned after working for 40 years."

Mr Anastasiades will take the reins of a Mediterranean nation ravaged by its worst economic crisis in four decades, with unemployment at a record high of 15 per cent. Pay cuts and tax hikes ahead of a bailout have further soured the national mood.

"I would expect the markets, and business, to welcome Anastasiades' victory because he knows the rules of the game very well," said Mr Stelios Platis, an economist and independent consultant. "Securing funding for the state is the immediate priority, along with signing the bailout agreement."