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Cyprus ruling party sits on fence in presidential runoff

NICOSIA (Reuters) - Cyprus's ruling right-wing party on Wednesday said its supporters should vote at will in a runoff presidential election on Feb. 12 between a former member of its party, ahead in polls, and a leftist-backed independent following close behind.

The decision by the ruling DISY party effectively leaves the outcome of Sunday's runoff wide open; its own candidate came third in the first round of elections on Feb. 5.

"We call on friends and members to vote what their conscience dictates placing the good of the country first," DISY said in a statement after a party meeting which stretched to the early hours of Wednesday.

The Feb. 12 vote will be between Nikos Christodoulides, a former Cypriot foreign minister who polled 32%, and Andreas Mavroyiannis, a former career diplomat backed by the left-wing AKEL party who polled 29.6%.

Sunday's vote had split the political right, with Christodoulides breaking ranks with DISY, and its leader Averof Neophytou mounting his own independent bid. Polls showed Christodoulides had support of one third of DISY supporters, but his bid had been viewed by party leadership as going rogue.

After Sunday, Christodoulides had attempted to mend any rift in an attempt to get DISY party backing.

But Neophytou said no member of the party would participate in any new government irrespective of result, referring to 'Judas and apostates' in a party speech. "History might forget heroes, but it never forgets traitors," he said.

(Reporting By Michele Kambas; Editing by Andrew Heavens)