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Cyprus Tries to Make Politicians More Accountable

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NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) -- Cyprus' president and other politicians will have their immunity from prosecution significantly curbed as part of a package of new reforms aiming to bolster accountability in public life in the crisis-hit country.

Currently, the president can lose his job if convicted of high treason or any offenses "involving dishonesty or moral turpitude" or becomes permanently incapacitated physically or mentally.

But President Nicos Anastasiades said Monday that a proposed constitutional amendment will "expand and specify" the offenses under which the president could be criminally prosecuted.

He said ministers and top civil servants will face tougher legal standards, with new criminal and civil liabilities to be enshrined in law. Members of parliament, who have immunity from prosecution on some types of offenses, will lose all such legal protection.

"Today ... I find that not only is the state's reformation and modernization needed but is demanded, just as restoring the public's trust in institutions and more so in politicians is demanded," Anastasiades said in a nationally televised address.

More government officials, including presidential appointees such as advisers and commissioners as well as judges and parliamentary leaders, will have to declare their financial assets.

Presidential terms will be limited to two consecutive 5-year periods. However, a former president can again seek reelection after a hiatus of at least one term. There is currently no limit to the terms a president can serve.

Members of parliament will be restricted to serving three consecutive terms.

Anastasiades is trying to rehabilitate the image of the country's political elite after it took a severe bruising from the financial crisis -- the worst the country has faced in decades -- and the chaotic negotiations over a bailout program.

Cyprus, with a population of around 860,000 and economic output that only contributes 0.2 percent to the economy of the 17-country eurozone, last month negotiated a 23 billion euro ($30 billion) financial rescue package with its euro partners and the International Monetary Fund. The deal involved depositors with over 100,000 euros sitting in Cyprus' two largest banks to take heavy losses on their savings.

That was a key condition under which creditors would agree to loan Cyprus 10 billion to keep the near-bankrupt government going and to keep the financial sector -- deeply hurt from losses it took on bad Greek debt and loans -- from imploding.

Many Cypriots saw the deal as a betrayal of Europe's commitment to support its troubled members. But more importantly, it was taken as evidence of the failings of their politicians, who are perceived as either too feeble to stand up to international pressure, in cahoots with bankers, or more interested in protecting their own interests than those of the public.

Cypriots' confidence in their leaders had already been drained after the July 2011 explosion of Iranian munitions left exposed to the elements after being confiscated two years earlier. Many chalked up the explosion, which killed 13 people and nearly completely destroyed the country's largest power station, to government officials' ineptitude.

Among the other measures Anastasiades announced on Monday is making all state tenders public and bolstering the powers of the ombudsman's office to compel government departments to conform to its recommendations.

Citizens will be granted free and unfettered access to all government documents apart from those involving national security, defense and international relations.

Government employees will be hired based on the strength of their marks in a written exam as well as their academic and professional achievements rather than their performance in an oral interview.

New administrative courts will be set up to alleviate a huge backlog of cases weighing down the country's legal system. Another proposed bill would enable citizens to propose their own legislation provided that it has the support of 10,000 people.

Also, voting in any election will no longer be obligatory and those not casting ballots won't be criminally prosecuted.

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