Monday, February 25, 2008

Communist Wins in Cyprus, Pledging Reunification Effort

Petros Karadjias/Associated Press

Supporters of President-elect Demetris Christofias of Cyprus shouted slogans during victory celebrations on Sunday evening outside his campaign headquarters in Nicosia, the capital.

The New York Times, February 25, 2008

NICOSIA, Cyprus (Reuters) — The Communist Party leader Demetris Christofias won Cyprus’s presidential election on Sunday and agreed to meet the leader of the island’s breakaway Turkish Cypriot community to revive reunification efforts.

The Turkish Cypriot president, Mehmet Ali Talat, called Mr. Christofias to congratulate him, and they agreed to meet “at the earliest possible date,” Mr. Talat’s spokesman said.

Mr. Christofias’s election has revived hopes of reunifying Cyprus, divided along ethnic lines since 1974, when Turkey invaded after a brief Greek-inspired coup.

Reunification efforts broke down in 2004 when Greek Cypriots rejected a United Nations plan, and Cyprus joined the European Union a short time later as a divided island.

Mr. Christofias’s supporters poured into the streets waving red party banners and Cypriot flags. He won 53.4 percent of the vote, and his right-wing rival, Ioannis Kasoulides, had 46.6 percent.

Mr. Christofias, 62, told a noisy crowd, “From tomorrow we unite our strengths. We shall work collectively and in unison to achieve reunification of our homeland.”

He will be Cyprus’s first Communist president and the only one in the 27-member European Union. Although proud to be a Communist, he says he will leave the free-market economy alone.

His party, Akel, has busts of Lenin and red flags at its headquarters but it also owns a number of large businesses on the island. It has been instrumental in electing presidents but had never fielded its own candidate.

The island’s division between Greek and Turkish Cypriots is a major obstacle to neighboring Turkey’s aspirations for European Union membership. The division also is an obstacle to better ties between NATO allies Greece and Turkey, who have come close to war over the island.

The surprise elimination of President Tassos Papadopoulos in the first round of voting on Feb. 17 raised hopes the Greek Cypriots might be ready for a deal. Turkish Cypriots, who have watched wealthier Greek Cypriots enjoy the benefits of European Union membership, welcomed the result, saying they were eager for new talks.

“We see the change as an opportunity, and we expect negotiations to start immediately and without the need for preliminaries,” said Hasan Ercakica, a Turkish Cypriot spokesman.

Initial reaction from Turkey was more lukewarm. “We are a little cautious at the moment,” said a Foreign Ministry official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “We have to see whether Christofias gave promises to Papadopoulos or not,” adding that Mr. Christofias “will face a sincerity test.”

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