World Bulletin/News Desk
Cyprus said on Friday it would continue discussions with international lenders in an attempt to reach an agreement on its bailout request, but could not specify when a deal might be concluded.
"We are working with the troika to be able to conclude a memorandum the soonest possible," government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said after government ministers met representatives of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund on a visit to the island.
Cyprus sought emergency financial aid from its EU partners on June 25 to buffer a banking sector hammered by exposure to Greece, becoming the fifth euro zone country to need a bailout.
The island's two largest banks booked significant losses on the restructuring of Greek debt earlier this year, impairing regulatory capital and forcing them to seek government aid to recapitalise.
It is unclear how much Cyprus, the euro zone's third smallest economy, will require. The bailout will be comprehensive, and not limited just to the banking sector.
With a GDP of just 17 billion euros, some assessments have placed the bailout amount as high as 10 billion because of the further fallout potential from Greece.
Sources close to the consultations have said there is a divergence on how much Cyprus may need, with the government's assessment being lower than that of the Troika, but without providing any figures.
Cyprus is also discussing a 5 billion euro loan request with Russia, a close political and business ally.
Run by a leftist government which only reluctantly submitted a bailout request after the world's third ratings agency downgraded the island's debt to junk, Cyprus has been at pains to stress to lenders it will not take harsh austerity measures, spooked by the experience of Greece.
"Austerity won't provide the exit from the crisis, there needs to be support for growth and social cohesion," Stefanou said.
"We have underlined the need for balanced and mild measures which will not trigger social upheaval, and will preserve industrial peace," he said.
Authorities have refused to comment on widespread reports that the Troika has suggested salary cuts in an inflated, and highly unionised, public sector workforce and the withholding of Christmas bonuses.
There have also been reports of privatising semi-government corporations like Cyprus telecoms agency Cyta and the electricity authority.
Asked whether there were disagreements, Stefanou said: "When there is a need to continue, it means that there are different approaches on various issues, but on the other, it means there is prospect for convergences on various issues. We will exhaust all effort to reach convergence."
The uncertainty comes at a bad time for the 18 countries in the euro zone, whose economy is already in the doldrums.
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