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Cabinet reshuffle after finance minister quits

THE COMMUNIST-LED Cyprus government underwent a mini reshuffle on Monday with banker Vassos Shiarly replacing Kikis Kazamias as finance minister, whose resignation on health grounds was announced on Friday, while the outgoing trade and energy minister fired a parting shot saying she was often undermined.

President Demetris Christofias replaced Commerce and Industry Minister Praxoulla Antoniadou with Neoclis Sylikiotis, until now Interior Minister. The portfolio is responsible for administering natural gas reserves recently discovered off Cyprus.

Antoniadou refuted the government spokesman that she had resigned earlier this month, saying in a statement that the president’s advisors misled him.

She added that members of the cabinet and other technocrats has pressed her “to follow different policies to those indicated by the President … on issues such as golf courses, relations with (natural gas explorer) Noble Energy, photovoltaic parks and a hostility towards (public power utility) EAC.”

Antoniadou said that she was working under extremely difficult circumstances at a ministry that needs to undergo major changes and that she was left to work on her own without the necessary number of expert assistants.

Sylikiotis is replaced at the Interior Ministry by Eleni Mavrou, former mayor of the capital Nicosia.

Taking over at the Finance Ministry is Shiarly, 64, an accountant and until last year the group chief general manager at Bank of Cyprus in charge of branch networks.

With regulators he will have to oversee recapitalisation efforts of the island’s two largest banks, including his former employers, which are heavily exposed to Greek sovereign debt.

Moody’s rating agency last week followed Standard and Poor’s in downgrading Cyprus’s sovereign debt to junk, saying there was a heightened risk the government would have to prop up the banks.

Cyprus itself has been shut out of debt markets since May 2011, and averted a bailout after receiving a €2.5 billion loan from Russia.

The resignation of Kazamias removes the one known ally of central bank governor Athanasios Orphanides, a member of the European Central Bank’s Governing Council. The government is due to decide by April 30 whether to reappoint Orphanides, whom Kazamias publicly defended on several occasions over the island’s exposure to Greek debt.

Press reports suggest that the government is leaning towards Leicester University economics professor Panicos Demetriades.