Cyprus votes for leader to steer it past financial storm
By Michele Kambas and Deepa Babington
NICOSIA (Reuters) - Cypriots went to the polls on Sunday to elect a president who must negotiate a financial rescue to save the island country from a bankruptcy that would reignite the euro zone debt crisis.
The eastern Mediterranean nation's worst economic crisis in four decades eclipsed its almost four-decade-old partition as the main issue in this year's election, which conservative leader Nicos Anastasiades was tipped to win.
Polls showed Anastasiades, the most pro-bailout figure among the main presidential contenders, with a 15-point lead over his closest leftist rival, Stavros Malas that might even secure the outright majority needed to avoid a run-off a week later.
An air of despondency about the country's grim economic prospects hung over Greek Cypriots as they trickled to the polls. Results from over half a million votes expected to be cast were due by 1830 GMT.
Election officials reported a low morning turnout in mild late-winter sunshine. Most early voters were elderly, dressed in their Sunday best and heading to church mass.
"We don't want to sign a bailout immediately without looking at the terms and conditions; we want something tolerable," said Kyriakos Georgiou, a 73-year-old retired pharmacist. "We have an economic crisis but they can't be grabbing us by the throat."
Investors are keen to see Anastasiades, 66, a lawyer who has led the Democratic Rally party since 1997, clinch victory and get working on a bailout deal with lenders immediately.
He has pledged a quick agreement with the European Union and International Monetary Fund on a rescue, which investors want thrashed out before the island's woes derail progress made in shoring up the rest of the euro zone's periphery. Continued...