NEWS

Christofias makes start on dialogue

New Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias has contacted Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat for initial talks on reuniting the island, less than 24 hours after being elected as leader of the country. Christofias, who won Sunday’s election after campaigning on a pledge to act fast to restart long-stalled talks to reunify the island, told Kathimerini he has arranged to meet with Talat soon. «Our commitment is to secure a solution that will end the occupation and settlement, to reunite the territories, the people, institutions and the economy,» said Christofias. «The goal is to confirm the good intentions of the Greek-Cypriot side and work hard to secure a solution that will reunify the country.» Christofias won comfortably on Sunday night with just over 53 percent of the vote, ahead of conservative former Foreign Minister Ioannis Kassoulides with 46.6 percent. Decades of diplomatic efforts to heal the rift on the island have failed in what has developed into an obstacle for Turkey’s EU accession efforts. Talat responded by saying that he «calls on Christofias to cooperate in the process of negotiations which should start as soon as possible.» Christofias faced mounting pressure to act almost immediately from the international community. «I would strongly encourage you to grasp the chance and without delay start negotiations under United Nations auspices with the leader of the Turkish-Cypriot community on a comprehensive settlement,» EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told the new president. Christofias, a Soviet-educated 61-year-old history professor, heads the communist-rooted AKEL party and has long had friendly ties with the Turkish-Cypriot left wing. The Cypriot press hailed the election result as historic, both because Christofias becomes the island’s first communist president and the only one in the 27-member EU, but also as an opportunity to end the island’s stalemate. In his first official visit, Christofias is expected to visit Athens next week and meet with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis.