Turkish Cypriot hard-liner wins election

Published April 19, 2010

| Associated Press

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — A hard-liner's victory in the Turkish Cypriot presidential election could bring deadlock to peace talks with Greek Cypriots and spell the end of Turkey's bid for European Union membership, analysts said Monday.

Nationalist Dervis Eroglu narrowly defeated leftist incumbent Mehmet Ali Talat in Sunday's election with 50.38 percent of the vote, promising to continue reunification talks with rival Greek Cypriots. Talat drew 42.85 percent.

Eroglu told Turkey's private NTV news channel on Monday that talks could resume in the second half of May following a six-week break for the election.

But his insistence on sovereignty for the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus could upend the federal framework that Talat and the island's Greek Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias hammered out in 19 months of negotiations.

The island's division is already hampering Turkey's EU bid and failure of the talks would end it altogether.

Eroglu's victory was due mainly to disillusionment with Talat, whom many Turkish Cypriots fault for not delivering on a promise of a swift agreement.

With a clear mandate, there is little incentive for Eroglu to abandon his support for two separate states on the island. But he has pledged to press on with negotiations, in consultation with Turkey.

Analysts say his assurances don't inspire confidence of progress because he opposes a federal system.

"The talks will continue, but ... it is hard to see them making any progress," said Tim Pottier, an international relations professor at Nicosia University. "The most important thing for Ankara is to avoid being blamed for any subsequent failure in the talks."

More involvement by outside players will be needed to nudge the peace process forward, said Eastern Mediterranean University International Relations Professor Erol Kaymak.

"There's going to have to be a process with demonstrative progress," said Kaymak. "It would require more outside players playing a more direct role. Outside mediation would now be key."

The EU Commission said in a statement that it is "crucial" that peace talks go on and reiterated its full support to both leaders.

"The commission encourages Mr. Eroglu to continue in a constructive spirit the efforts towards settlement and reunification," the statement said. "There is no alternative to a solution to the Cyprus problem. ... It is in the hands of both leaders to make this happen."

Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Turkish Cypriots declared an independent republic in 1983, but it is recognized only by Turkey, which keeps 35,000 troops there.

Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, with only the internationally recognized south's 800,000 Greek Cypriots enjoying the benefits of membership. Parts of Turkey's EU membership negotiation process remain blocked because of the country's refusal to recognize the Greek Cypriot government.

"We congratulate Mr. Eroglu for his election as president, applaud his determination to press ahead with the UN negotiations for a comprehensive solution and wish him the best in his new position," the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The Greek Cypriot side didn't hide its dismay at the outcome of Sunday's vote.

"Mr. Eroglu's election is a negative development," said Stefanos Stefanou, spokesman for the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government. "Taking into account Mr. Eroglu's long-standing and declared positions against a federation and for the creation of two independent states in Cyprus, very grave problems will be created in the negotiations."

Stefanou said the Greek Cypriot side remains committed to a federal solution and urged the international community to "exert in influence and its pressure" on Eroglu to carry on negotiations "on their proper basis."

Christofias on Monday telephoned Eroglu and Talat, an official statement said. Christofias conveyed to Eroglu his readiness to resume peace talks, and Eroglu said he would like to meet with Christofias soon. Christofias and Talat agreed to keep in touch regarding the peace process, the statement said.