Cyprus lawmakers approve key bills for bailout

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Lawmakers in Cyprus approved three key bills Friday that aim to raise enough money to qualify the country for a broader bailout package and help it avoid financial ruin in mere days.

A total of nine bills were approved, including a key one on restructuring the country’s ailing banks, which lost billions on bad Greek debt; one on restricting financial transactions in times of crisis; and one that sets up a ‘solidarity fund’ into which investments and contributions will flow.

More bills to meet the total target of 5.8 billion euros ($7.5 billion) Cyprus needs to secure an international bailout will be brought for a vote over the weekend.

They include a crucial one that would impose a tax of less than 1 percent on all bank deposits, said Averof Neophytou, deputy head of the governing DISY party.

“We are voting for the least worst option,” Neophytou said in a speech. “We owe an apology to the Cypriot people because we all share in the responsibility of bringing this place to this state.”

Approval of the tax would come just days after Parliament decisively turned down a plan that would have seized up to 10 percent of people’s bank deposits. The plan triggered an outcry from people who condemned it as an unfair grab of their life savings, while politicians saw it as causing irreparable damage to the country’s financial center status.

Nonetheless, ordinary Cypriots have said they would willingly sacrifice a portion of their savings to save the country — just as long as somebody doesn’t impose it on them.

“If we have Europe’s support so our banks won’t collapse, I wouldn’t have a problem with a deposit tax,” said pensioner Demetrakis Papanicolaou, 64. “But we need to hear this not only from our government, but from the Europeans.”

Cyprus’ president, Nicos Anastasiades, will travel to Brussels on Saturday to present the revised package to the country’s prospective creditors, its fellow countries that use the euro currency and the International Monetary Fund. There has been no indication yet that they will accept it.

Cyprus has been told to raise 5.8 billion euros to qualify for 10 billion euros in rescue loans from the eurozone and the IMF.

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