New minister hopeful

NICOSIA -Cyprus’s new finance minister, Charilaos Stavrakis, took over yesterday, saying the communist-led government wanted to boost foreign investment to the island which joined the eurozone on January 1. Stavrakis, a banker, took over from Michalis Sarris after Communist leader Dimitris Christofias won a presidential election runoff on February 24. «We shall continue on the model of a mixed economy which has been very effective,» said Stavrakis, who spearheaded the expansion of Cyprus’s largest lender, the Bank of Cyprus, into Greece, Eastern Europe and Australia. «I’m fully convinced foreign investors will be totally satisfied. One of my top priorities will be to strengthen Cyprus as a financial center,» Stavrakis told Reuters. Christofias, a communist who rode a wave of voter discontent over the hardline policies of predecessor Tassos Papadopoulos, has said he did not plan to make any major changes to the Cypriot economy, which represents about 0.2 percent of eurozone GDP. He had however disagreed with the timing of Cyprus’s admission to the eurozone, publicly advocating a delay of one year, to 2009, to allow better preparations for the changover. Christofias’s takeover on Thursday coincided with a rout in shares on the Cyprus Stock Exchange, which traders said fell on the back of weak 2008 earnings guidance for Bank of Cyprus. Stavrakis, who until yesterday morning was deputy group CEO of the bank, said the bourse performance was unrelated to the change in government and added: «It is my unwavering position to never comment on share prices.» In his pre-election pledge Christofias said he would cut public debt levels, expected to fall to 47 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by the end of the year, and continue to keep a lid on public deficits. No new taxes were foreseen in his election manifesto. Stavrakis is a Cambridge- and Harvard-educated economist and considered to be a bipartisan appointment. He is not a member of Christofias’s AKEL party and, according to some reports, is taking a massive pay cut to take on the Cabinet post. He was also touted last year to take on the job of central bank governor, a post which eventually went to Athanassios Orphanides. «We want to eliminate poverty to the largest possible extent. We fully appreciate that to achieve this we need a very strong and robust economy. We will strengthen it to make it more competitive and productive,» Stavrakis said.

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