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Published: Thursday February 27, 2014 MYT 10:55:45 PM
Updated: Thursday February 27, 2014 MYT 10:56:35 PM

Hundreds protest as Cyprus debates privatisations

NICOSIA (Reuters) - Several hundred protesters gathered outside Cyprus's parliament on Thursday jeering and shouting "hands off" before lawmakers were due to debate a privatisation bill.

There was a heavy police presence outside parliament where the bill has brought the first sign of serious dissent since the island was pulled from the brink of bankruptcy a year ago.

Parliament was due to discuss a roadmap for state sell-offs later on Thursday, hoping to raise up to 1.4 billion euros by 2018 under a European Union and International Monetary Fund-mandated 10-billion-euro bailout programme.

Discussions of the bill brought protests from labour unions earlier this week.

Under the sell-off plan, the Cyprus Ports Authority, Cyprus telecoms CyTA and the electricity authority EAC are to be privatised.

Approval of the plan is far from certain. The ruling Democratic Rally party and a smaller ally have 21 seats in the 56-member chamber, while its principal ally, the Democratic Party with eight MPs, announced earlier on Thursday it would be quitting the coalition for unrelated reasons.

Labour unions have staged strikes and there were rolling power cuts earlier in the week.

"This bill will be devastating for the organisation, it will turn it into a private monopoly," said Andreas Panorkos, a leader of a union at EAC.

The government says it has no choice but to approve the plan by early March for Cyprus to be eligible for the next tranche of bailout funds worth 236 million euros.

(Reporting By Michele Kambas; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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