Can new Cypriot president unite his divided island?

February 26th, 2008 - 9:51 am ICT by admin  

Nicosia (Cyprus), Feb 26 (DPA) Past Cypriot leaders have been unable to guide their island toward reunification. Now the question on everyone’s lips as the divided city of Nicosia celebrates the election of Cyprus’ new president is whether Dimitris Christofias can find success where his predecessors failed. Within hours of securing victory as Cyprus’ new president, Christofias immediately agreed to meet with Turkish Cypriot leader Mehemt Ali Talat to revive reunification efforts in the near future. Reports said that the Turkish Cypriot leader telephoned Christofias to offer congratulations, and the two men agreed to meet at the earliest possible date.

Christofias’ victory has revived hopes of relaunching peace talks, after negotiations broke down in 2004 after Greek Cypriots rejected a UN plan and instead joined the EU without the Turkish Cypriots.

The election came as UN mediators will attempt another peace plan, intended to mend the divisions between Greek and Turkish Cypriots on opposite sides of the ceasefire line.

The island has been divided since 1974, and Cyprus is represented internationally by the Greek Cypriot government in the south, while the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north is recognized only by Ankara, which maintains 30,000 troops in the enclave.

The long running standoff is a thorn in relations between NATO allies Greece and Turkey and has been an obstacle to Turkey’s efforts to move toward EU membership.

In a surprising turn of events, Cypriots signalled that they were ready for a return to the negotiating table, after voting to send incumbent hardliner Tassos Papadopoulos home in the first round of presidential elections Feb 17.

Since the 2004 referendum, when the majority of Greek Cypriots voted down an UN-backed peace plan to end the decades-old division, Papadopoulos had made no real attempt to break the deadlock.

Many voters felt his failure to take a firm stance to initiate stalled peace talks with the island’s Turkish Cypriot community only ended up alienating the Greek Cypriots in the European Union.

The win makes the Soviet-educated Christofias, 62, the only communist leader in the 27-member European Union and the first to head Cyprus.

Despite his party’s Leninist roots, Christofias has assured the business community that he will not interfere in the country’s strong economy, which has a history of attracting foreign investment.

Final results showed Christofias to have won 53.36 percent of the vote and rival Ioannis Kasoulides 46.64 percent.

“Today the public spoke. … There are many difficulties before us, but from tomorrow we unite our efforts to achieve the reunification of our country,” Christofias said in his victory speech, as supporters honked car horns and set off flares.

He pledged to immediately pursue peace talks with Turkish Cypriots on the ethnically divided island and said that his meeting with Talat would be arranged through the United Nations.

“I do not think Mr Kasoulides or myself has the magic formula to break the deadlock,” Christofias said Friday in a televised debate. “But I have the goodwill to move forward to try to find a settlement. It is an absolute necessity.”

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