Turkish Cypriot election could halt peace talks

Turkish Cypriots vote Sunday in a leadership election whose outcome could deadlock Cyprus peace talks and sink Turkey’s bid for European Union membership.

The election pits a dovish incumbent striving for reunification with rival Greek Cypriots against a hardline challenger seeking to bolster a breakaway state.

Polls open for 164,000 voters in the small northern enclave at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) and close at 6 p.m. (1500 GMT), with results expected late Sunday.

Opinion polls showed right-winger Dervis Eroglu set to oust leftist Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat. If that happens, it could end the slow-moving peace talks between Talat and the island’s Greek Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias.

The island’s division already is hampering Turkey’s EU drive, it could halt if the peace talks are called off. Since Turkey is a NATO member, such a move also could cripple closer EU-NATO cooperation and increase regional instability.

Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Turkish Cypriots declared the independent Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in 1983, but only Turkey recognizes it and maintains 35,000 troops there.

Cyprus joined the EU divided in 2004 with only the internationally recognized south’s 800,000 Greek Cypriots enjoying membership benefits.

Eroglu’s resurgence is mainly due to public disillusionment with Talat who many Turkish Cypriots fault for not delivering on a promise of a swift deal after opening negotiations with Christofias 19 months ago.

“I believe, for the Turkish Cypriot people, Mr. Eroglu will win. We trust him, I don’t trust Talat,” said resident Mustafa Ozhan, 43.

Talat supporter Zeki Kayalp said an Eroglu win would be disastrous for the peace talks.

“We believe that (Talat) is the only one who is going to sort out a Cyprus solution,” the 43-year-old shipping agency official said.

Although Eroglu insists he would continue peace talks, he’s at odds with an agreement between Talat and Christofias envisioning a future partnership under a federal roof.


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