Cyprus election favourite in talks to secure bridge loan

NICOSIA Fri Feb 22, 2013 11:51am GMT

1 of 4. Cyprus presidential candidate Nicos Anastasiades of the right wing Democratic Rally party speaks during an interview with Reuters in Nicosia February 21, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Yorgos Karahalis

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NICOSIA (Reuters) - The frontrunner in Cyprus's presidential election runoff said on Thursday he has been in touch with governments and unspecified funds for a bridge loan to ensure the island nation does not run out of cash before it secures an international bailout.

Conservative leader Nicos Anastasiades, who polled over 45 percent in last Sunday's first voting round and is the favourite to win the February 24 runoff, told Reuters various parties, including "governments and funds" which he did not identify, had been "sounded out" for a short-term loan.

The "one or two month" loan would not supplant a bailout for which Cyprus is in talks with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, he said.

"This would be in order to complete the (bailout) loan agreement with some comfort, without the threat or the fear of collapse," Anastasiades told Reuters at his party offices.

"That means not to be under the dilemma of a deadline," he added.

The 66-year-old lawyer declined to say whom he had contacted. It was the first time a presidential candidate in Cyprus has disclosed talks to secure a loan ahead of a bailout rescue - talks which have dragged on for eight months.

"We would want a very short period to study the (bailout) terms, to see how we could avoid distortions without dealing with the pressure of the state going bankrupt," said Anastasiades, who faces leftist rival Stavros Malas on Sunday.

Malas, a pro-bailout but anti-austerity independent backed by the Communist party now in government, lags Anastasiades by 18 points in opinion polls.

A Socialist party that endorsed a third candidate in the first round has not backed either candidate, boosting hopes for the conservative chief known for his no-nonsense manner.

DEVASTATING DISASTER

With Cyprus shut out of financial markets for almost two years, its outgoing leftist government has relied on short term and costly financing for months to meet its day-to-day needs.

The island nation is badly in need of a bailout of up to 17.5 billion euros (15.04 billion pounds) - almost the size of its gross domestic product - mainly due to the devastating impact of a Greek debt restructuring on its outsized banking sector in early 2012.

Investors are closely watching Cyprus's bailout discussions amid fears continued delays in clinching a bailout could hurt confidence in the euro zone just as fears of a Greek exit fade.

Although small compared to the rest of the euro zone economy, Cyprus's attempts to secure international aid have been bedevilled by concerns that the island is unlikely to be able to pay back a loan that dwarfs the size of its economy.

Anastasiades said recently speculated options to make debt manageable - from a sovereign debt writedown to imposing losses on depositors - were out of the question.

"Not only do I completely rule it out, I would consider it a devastating disaster to the economy," he said in a book-lined office, adorned by photos of his daughters and grandchildren.

"That would be a punitive measure, not a measure to save (Cyprus)."

Cyprus already has slapped pay cuts on an inflated public sector and tax hikes in anticipation of a bailout. Anastasiades said he did not favour conditions which were overly harsh.

"Our intention is to faithfully meet a loan agreement which will not provoke upheaval, or (include) unfair conditions from a negotiation made in haste under the pressure of time," he said.

(Reporting By Michele Kambas; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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