New leadership in northern Cyprus helps reunification

A new political landscape has emerged in the Cyprus island following Mehmet Ali Talat's victory in the presidential election of the breakaway north, a move observers said conducive to the reunification process.

Turkish Cypriots went to the polls for the fourth time in less than 18 months on Sunday. Talat snatched 56 percent of the votes and became the second president of the Turkish Cypriot community, replacing Rauf Denktash, a man notorious for intransigent opposition to the process.

Soon after claiming the victory in the presidential race, Talat, leader of the ruling left-of-center Republican Turkish Party, pledged to work to reunite this divided Mediterranean island and restart peace talks with Greek Cypriots.

"I once again wish to extend the hand of reconciliation and I will keep it extended until it is grasped," he said. "We are absolutely certain that this hand will be taken and that peace will return to Cyprus. We believe firmly in that."

He called on UN chief Kofi Annan to revive peace efforts, while urging the international community to lift economic sanctions on his breakaway state.

"If I receive a positive response from the Greek Cypriot administration, I am ready to meet Tassos Papadopoulous," Talat said.

Some local political analysts believe a new era is in store for the north under Talat's "pragmatic" approach to politics. Compared to Denktash, Talat is "more willing to compromise."

"Talat is after all a product of the compromise that has taken place within Turkish Cypriot politics," one analyst explained.

Since the partition of the island following a failed coup seeking union with Greece by the Greek Cypriots in 1974, there have been two political mainstreams in northern Cyprus. One was for reunification on the basis of UN resolutions along bizonal, bicommunal, federal lines. The other was for a fully independent Turkish Cypriot state.

Talat is widely regarded as the first leader in the self- declared Turkish Cypriot state who is genuinely committed to reunification with the Greek Cypriots. He used his pro-European stance as an election campaign platform.

Local observers believe the majority of Turkish Cypriots have now abandoned their desire for a separate independent state on the grounds that it is unviable and the pro-reunification trend has become stronger with Talat's win and Denktash's fading out from the political scene.

Some comments in local media say that Sunday's election result is likely to radically alter politics in Cyprus.

Talat's victory was welcomed by the EU, which has played an even more important role in solving Cyprus issue since the island joined the bloc a year ago.

The European Commission said in a statement that Talat's success should speed the resumption of talks, promising a "rapid" unblocking of EU aid and preferential trade terms for the northern part of Cyprus.

The election result "confirms the strong desire of the Turkish Cypriot community for reunification and full integration into the EU," said the statement.

"The commission expects that this result will create favorable conditions for a resumption of talks under the aegis of the UN in view of a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus issue," it said.

Meanwhile, the Cyprus government welcomed the change in leadership as a positive and significant development.

It expressed hope that the new leadership will work to seek a just and viable solution to the national issue, saying the Greek Cypriot side remains firmly committed to a just, functional and viable solution of a bicommunal, bizonal federation based on the international law.

Cyprus has been divided into Greek Cypriot south and Turkish Cypriot north since 1974 when Turkish troops entered the northern third of the island in the wake of an abortive coup seeking union with Greece.

The latest efforts to reunite the island ground to a halt after Greek Cypriots rejected Annan's reunification blueprint in a referendum in April last year.

People's Daily Online ---