Papadopoulos loses battle for second term

Greek Cypriot leader Tassos Papadopoulos was eliminated from the second round of presidential election Sunday after a cliff-hanger vote that saw three candidates neck-and-neck until the last minute.

Papadopoulos loses battle for second term
The election will now be determined in a Feb. 24 runoff between communist party leader Demetris Christofias and former Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides. With 98.6 percent of the vote counted, Papadopoulos had 31.77 percent, compared to 33.54 for Kasoulides and 33.27 for Christofias. "We are looking at an election thriller," said Nicos Anastassiades, head of the party supporting Kassoulides.

Papadopoulos, elected in 2003, had led his community into rejecting a UN reunification plan for the island in 2004. Detractors say he is a hardliner who has alienated Greek Cypriots in Europe, and failed to take decisive initiatives to re-start stalled peace talks with the island's estranged Turkish Cypriot community.

Both Kassoulides and Christofias have said they would be eager to re-launch negotiations and end the island's division.

The four-decade-old Cyprus problem erupted after the eastern Mediterranean island was granted independence from Britain in 1960, soon followed by an outbreak of inter-communal clashes in 1963. The island has been ethnically divided between a Greek south and Turkish north since the Turkish military intervened in 1974 under the terms of the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee after diplomacy failed to end unrest on the island.

In addition to the Turkish Cypriot Peace Forces Command (KTBK), made up of 4,500 Turkish Cypriots, there are around 35,000 Turkish troops stationed on the island. Ankara says the Turkish troops are there as part of Turkey's guarantor rights stemming from the Treaty of Guarantee.

Ankara does not recognize the Greek Cypriot government, which entered the EU in May of 2004 as the official representative of the entire island. In 1983 the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) unilaterally declared its independence, though it remains recognized only by Ankara.

Turkish Cypriots are unable to exercise the EU rights granted to Greek Cypriots, and international peace efforts have been virtually frozen since Greek Cypriots voted against the UN reunification plan shortly before joining the EU.

Stalled efforts to reunite Cyprus are hampering Turkey's chances of joining the European Union. The Greek Cypriot-led Cyprus represents the island in the bloc, with veto rights over the admission of Turkey. The EU partially suspended Turkey's EU accession talks in 2006 over its refusal to open its ports and airports to Greek Cypriot traffic.

"Our goal is to reunify this unfortunate land and these proud people," Christofias said after voting in Nicosia. "These people deserve a better fortune in their future homeland, the homeland we will rebuild."

Kasoulides said voters must choose whether to transform the island into a credible European state ready to undertake a "true struggle" for reunification.

With a new drive for peace likely to start after the election, Papadopoulos said before the polls that a renewed mandate for him would ensure an improved agreement that Greek Cypriots could embrace. "Today, Cyprus is stronger than ever before," Papadopoulos said, after casting his ballot near his Nicosia home. "I hope, with the help of the people, we can achieve the [reunification] solution that we desire and deserve. The future rests in our hands."

Resolving the division has been the main election campaign issue, far above any domestic policies. "The key criterion for this election was the direction the Cyprus problem will take," said Anna Georgiou, 24, after casting her ballot in Nicosia. "This wasn't a last-minute thing; people had already decided who to vote for."

Some 516,000 voters, including 390 Turkish Cypriots living in the south, are registered to vote. Elected for a five-year term, the president is Greek Cyprus' head of government. Voting began at 7 a.m. (0500 GMT) and no serious problems were reported, said chief election officer Lazaros Savvides.

Today's Zaman, Agencies
Güncelleme Tarihi: 18 Şubat 2008, 20:17