Turkish-Cypriot leader appeals to the EU to press Nicosia over negotiations

NICOSIA – Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat yesterday called on the EU to put pressure on the Republic of Cyprus, a member of the European bloc, to resume talks for the reunification of the divided island. Talat, 53, is the front-runner in tomorrow’s election for the «presidency» of the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus, which is recognized only by Turkey. «A crucial role befalls the international community, and the European Union in particular,» in forcing a resumption of negotiations to reunite the Mediterranean island, which has been divided along ethnic lines for more than three decades, Talat told AFP. He criticized Tassos Papadopoulos, president of the internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot Republic of Cyprus, for his opposition to a now-moribund peace plan for the island, drawn up by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Papadopoulos’s position «is not compatible with European values,» because it opposes peace efforts, Talat said. «The isolation of the Greek part (of Cyprus) in European institutions should push them to take positive steps» to relaunch the talks, Talat said. Talat, leader of the left-of-center Turkish Republican Party (CTP), is confident that he will be elected president of the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus in the first round of voting tomorrow «with more than 60 percent of the vote.» His chief rival in the field of nine candidates, Dervis Eroglu of the center-right National Unity Party, is credited with only 28 percent of voting intentions, according to the latest opinion surveys. Once he is elected, Talat said, «of course, I will launch an appeal» to Papadopoulos to resume talks. Tomorrow’s election will find a successor to outgoing leader Rauf Denktash, 81, a staunch nationalist who has decided not to seek a fifth mandate. Unlike Talat, Denktash, who has led the Turkish-Cypriot north of the island since 1983, is a strong opponent of the Annan blueprint. The plan was effectively killed off when, in an April 2004 referendum, it was rejected by the Greek Cypriots despite massive backing by the island’s Turkish community. The Republic of Cyprus became a member of the EU on May 1. The president of the Turkish-held enclave is the highest authority of the island’s Turkish community and automatically becomes the chief negotiator at peace talks. Talat said he believed his election would cause Papadopoulos «great concern» because it would «hamper his delaying tactics» to avoid a resumption of peace talks. «Papadopoulos today repeats what Denktash used to say – they have the same intransigent rhetoric,» Talat said. He also said he hopes to solve the thorny Cyprus problem before October 3, when Turkey is scheduled to begin membership talks with the European Union. «But this does not depend on us alone,» Talat said. «Our aim is to solve the problem before that date, but this does not seem possible with the current attitude of the Greek (Cypriot) side.» Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded its northern third in response to an ultra-nationalist coup fomented by the colonels’ regime then in power in Athens.

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