Greek Cypriots vote for new president

Greek Cypriots voted to elect a a new president on Sunday, with both candidates saying they want to relaunch peace talks to reunite the war-partitioned island that are crucial to Turkey's hopes of joining the EU.

Greek Cypriots vote for new president
The runoff between Communist leader Demetris Christofias, 62, and right-wing backed Ioannis Kassoulides, 59, follows the surprise first-round defeat of incumbent Tassos Papadopoulos, who opposed a 2004 U.N. plan to reunify the Mediterranean state.

Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. (0500 GMT). Voting was scheduled to end at 5 p.m. (1500 GMT), with final results expected by 1730 GMT. Just over half a million people in the Greek Cypriot south of Cyprus were eligible to vote.

"Voting started on time and we do not anticipate any problems," said chief election official Lazaros Savvides.

Cyprus has been split since 1974 between the Greek-Cypriot south, seat of the EU-recognised government, and the Turkish-Cypriot north, which is recognised only by Turkey.

It was divided when Turkey entered the north after a coup inspired by the military then ruling Greece. Around 30,000 Turkish troops remain there.

Christofias and Kassoulides say they want to restart peace talks with the Turkish Cypriots but they differ on the process.

Reunification is important for Turkey's efforts to enter the European Union, with the Greek-Cypriot government saying it could block Turkish membership as long as the island is divided.

Reunification goal

Soviet-educated Christofias says he wants resumption of talks with Turkish Cypriots through a U.N. process.

"I don't think Mr. Kassoulides or I have the magic formula to break the deadlock," Christofias said in a televised debate on Friday. "But I have the goodwill to move forward to try to find a settlement. It's an absolute necessity."

Kassoulides, a former foreign minister who says he has better EU connections, favours a more direct approach with Turkish Cypriots.

"I will seek a meeting with (Turkish Cypriot leader) Mehmet Ali Talat on Monday afternoon if I am elected," he said.

Peace efforts collapsed when Papadopoulos led Greek Cypriots in rejecting the U.N. plan three years ago, and Cyprus then entered the EU represented only by the Greek Cypriot south.

Turkish Cypriots voted in favour of the U.N. plan, but both candidates say the blueprint cannot be revived because of its rejection by 76 percent of Greek Cypriots.

"I don't think either can do anything on the Cyprus issue unless the other side wants it," said microbiologist Antonis Rotos, 68, at a polling station in the capital Nicosia.

Christofias is better placed to win Sunday's vote with the support of his powerful communist AKEL party and Papadopoulos's Democratic Party.

He would be the only communist EU head of state and he has sought to reassure business leaders that he will leave the free market alone, but he says he wants to create an administration which is better on welfare and has a "humane face".

Agencies
Güncelleme Tarihi: 24 Şubat 2008, 11:27
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