Cyprus church offers to help shoulder debt burden

NICOSIA (AFP) - The head of the powerful Orthodox Church in Cyprus, Archbishop Chrysostomos II, offered on Wednesday to help bail the country out of its financial crisis by putting church assets at the government's disposal.

"The entire property of the church is at the disposal of this country to prevent the economy from collapsing," the archbishop said after meeting President Nicos Anastasiades, hours after MPs rejected a eurozone bailout deal.

He said the church had offered to mortgage its vast property holdings to buy government bonds. He declined to estimate the amount of funding this could raise.

The church is the largest landowner on the island and also has stakes in a wide range of businesses, including in the country's Hellenic Bank, with total assets estimated to run into tens of millions of euros.

Cyprus is looking for ways to come up with 5.8 billion euros (S$9.4 billion) after lawmakers on Tuesday flatly rejected a proposal to impose a levy of up to 10 per cent on bank deposits to secure the international bailout.

Under a deal reached at the weekend, the troika of the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund were to provide Cyprus with 10 billion euros on condition that the island raises another 5.8 billion euros.

"Parliament's 'no' vote sent a strong message that you can't mess around with the little guy," the archbishop told reporters.

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