Cyprus MPs fail to pass privatisation Bill in threat to bailout

NICOSIA (AFP) - The Cypriot parliament failed Thursday to adopt a controversial Bill to sell off state utilities mandated by a bailout from international lenders, potentially endangering the next tranche of a 10-billion-euro (S$17.3 billion) loan.

As hundreds of protesters gathered outside parliament, the vote was split evenly, with 25 in favour and 25 against, and five abstentions. The Bill required a simply majority to pass.

Opposition parties opposed the Bill and ruling right-wing Disy party had hoped its former coalition partner, centre-right Diko, would join it in backing the measure.

Together they would have had a slim majority.

But when it came to the wire, Diko's five MPs abstained after the government rejected some of the amendments the party tried to push through.

Government spokesman Christos Stylianides warned before the vote that if the Bill were not approved, Cyprus risked missing out on its next instalment of bailout money and may not be able to pay salaries and pensions.

State television speculated that a re-vote could be possible in the coming days or that President Nicos Anastasiades may be urged to renegotiate the privatisation deal with the so-called troika.

Around 200 police in riot gear were lined up outside the parliament building in Nicosia, while protesters were kept at a distance and barricades put up.

The vote and protest come during a week of strike action by utility workers at the island's ports, by the electricity authority and Cyprus telecoms.

On Monday, hundreds of electricity authority workers laid siege to parliament and scuffles broke out with police during a protest against the privatisation of telecoms, electricity and ports.

Employers have condemned the industrial action, warning that the unions are dealing a death knell to a recession-hit economy already on its knees.

The strikes are the first of their kind since heavily indebted Cyprus agreed to the bailout in March 2013 during a severe banking crisis.

Cyprus has agreed to a two-year road map to privatise key state utilities in order to raise a required 1.4 billion euros under the bailout agreement.

But critics fear the government will underprice the utilities and that the move will damage both workers and consumers.

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