Workers at Cyprus’s state electricity utility have clashed with police in a rare explosion of anger over government privatisation plans under a $13.7bn international bailout.
In a rowdy protest at parliament on Monday, up to 400 demonstrators burst through police barricades in central Nicosia while politicians were debating provisions of a privatisation law with the island’s finance minister.
After electricity was cut to parliament, the finance committee meeting was moved to another part of the building.
Cyprus is required to approve legislation governing the future disposal of state assets under a three-year economic reform programme brokered with the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission a year ago.
Monday’s protest, which left two demonstrators slightly injured, is unusual. The island has seen little of the unrest stirred by bailouts in other euro zone nations, even though its aid conditions were among the harshest and involved closure of a failing bank and forcing large depositors in a second to help recapitalise the lender.
Under bailout conditions, Cyprus is called upon to privatise the electricity authority EAC, the Cyprus Ports Authority and Cyprus telecoms CyTA by 2018, raising $1.9bn.
Further consultations are expected this week, and the legislation is expected to be debated by the full parliament on February 27.
Labour unions representing workers called the bill an abomination, and vowed to step up action.
“Every member of parliament will be held accountable for this crime perpetuated against semi-government corporations,” said Andreas Panorkos, a representative of electricity workers.
Politicians said consultations on the legislation would continue this week.
“Even without electricity and (working in) darkness we have to do our duty. We cannot stop examining serious issues we are unfortunately called upon to review in view of the financial predicaments of the state,” said Nicolas Papadopoulos, head of parliament’s finance committee and leader of the Democratic Party, a junior governing coalition partner.
After bursting through metal barricades and hurling water bottles and citrus fruit from nearby trees, demonstrators spilled over a metal fence and attempted to burst through glass doors, heckling politicians.
The government said “vandalism” would not be tolerated and it would invoke legislation banning strikes in essential services, which include electricity and telecom utilities.
It warned that international lenders could withhold a new tranche of aid worth $324m if the sale was not approved by parliament by March 5.
The government has also assured workers that their employment conditions and pension rights would not be affected.