Cypriots protest against 'economic WWIII'

NICOSIA (AFP) - Hundreds of Cypriot demonstrators rallied outside EU offices and the presidential palace in Nicosia on Sunday calling on the government to defy international pressure to take a "criminal" bailout.

As they awaited the result of last-ditch talks in Brussels, the protesters slammed President Nicos Anastasiades and the so-called troika of the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank.

About 500 members of the communist Akel party gathered outside the offices of the European Commission chanting: "Don't bow, people of Cyprus, stand up for your rights," and "Troika prints euros and buys nations." "This is the Third World War in an economic form and we will stand up to it with all of our strength," protester Marina Charalambous told AFP. Another protester, Anda Dimitriou, said: "Cypriots are proud people, very hard working people. Europe's stance is unacceptable and criminal."

Ms Athina Kariati, said Cyprus had to fight efforts to make it accept conditions including a "haircut" for bank depositors. "They are going to let people starve in order to save the large capital," she said. "Right now we have to save our economy completely, refuse to pay the debt and nationalise the banks," she said.

Party member Andreas, a pensioner who declined to give his surname, told AFP that the troika were "not considering the people of Cyprus, but only figures and money.

"Their main concern is about Cypriot banks and that goes against the basic principle of the EU, guarding people's wellbeing," he said.

Akel, which has 19 seats in the 56-member parliament, had refused to sign a bailout agreement on the terms on offer while it was in power before Anastasiades's election last month.

"Anastasiades is responsible for this," said Charles Vassiliou, another Akel member.

"He listens to the troika. Akel would have handled the situation very differently. We would never have put Cyprus hostage to the troika. We would have quit the euro zone and gone back to the (Cyprus) pound." Some demonstrators were gloomily fatalistic about Cyprus eventually being forced to abandon the European single currency that it adopted in 2008.

"We are bankrupt," said Starvros Georgiou.

"Sooner or later we will return to the pound with tremendous consequences." The other protest at the presidential palace involved around 200 people, mostly bank workers whose jobs and pensions are on the line.

They held a banner saying: "We will not become slaves of the 21st century." A female protester who declined to give her name compared the crisis to 1974, the year that Turkish troops occupied the island's northern third in response to an Athens-engineered coup in Nicosia aimed at union with Greece.

"Everything is pre-planned because the government wants to follow the troika. Everything is sold and betrayed as back in 1974!," she said angrily.

"How can there be a light at the end of the tunnel when a government doesn't know how to negotiate, only because they want to follow troika.

Anastasiades is committed to (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel." Negotiations in Brussels among Eurogroup finance ministers on Cyprus were put back by at least two hours Sunday as talks dragged on between Anastasiades and EU and IMF chiefs.

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