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Communist leader wins Cyprus poll

Latest update : 2008-02-25

Cyprus communist party leader Demetris Christofias has won the presidential election run-off against Foreign Minister Loannis Kasoulides taking 53.36 percent of the vote, according to final official results. Jasper Mortimer reports from Nicosia.

International efforts to reunify Cyprus are set to take a step forward after communist party chief Demetris Christofias was elected president vowing to renew contacts with the rival Turkish Cypriots.
"I offer a hand of friendship and cooperation to the Turkish Cypriots and their leadership. I urge them to work together with us for the common good of the people in a climate of peace," the Greek Cypriot told a victory rally late Sunday.
The Russian-educated Christofias, who will be the only communist head of state in the European Union, was victorious in a second round run-off against conservative MEP and former foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides.
After his jubilant supporters partied the night away, the 61-year-old builder's son was due on Monday to start negotiations to form his government and was expected to be sworn in before parliament later in the week.
Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, head of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, called Christofias to congratulate him shortly after his win and the two have agreed to meet, an aide to Talat told AFP.
However, no date or further details were given.
"We foresee a productive cooperation for the benefit of the two communities for a viable and just solution to the problem," Christofias said.
He had pledged during the election campaign to renew contacts with the Turkish Cypriots after negotiations stalled under incumbent president Tassos Papadopoulos, who was booted out by voters in a first round on February 17.
Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines since Turkish troops invaded in 1974 in response to a Greek Cypriot coup aimed at union with Greece. A UN peacekeeping force has been deployed on the island since communal unrest first broke in 1963.
The international community hoped for a revival of peace efforts post-Papadopoulos, who led Greek Cypriots in voting down a UN reunification plan that was overwhelmingly endorsed by Turkish Cypriots in referendums in April 2004.
One month later a divided island joined the European Union, and the failure of peace efforts has been a key stumbling block in Turkey's own efforts to join the bloc.
The Greek Cypriot administration in the south is Cyprus's internationally recognised government, while the TRNC is recognised only by Ankara.
Christofias -- whose AKEL party has close ties to Moscow -- beat 59-year-old Kasoulides after winning the endorsement of three smaller parties that had backed Papadopoulos.
Local media reported that Christofias had promised the centre-right DIKO party of Papadopoulos three ministries including foreign affairs and the socialist EDEK party two.
The deal could limit his freedom of manoeuvre on the Cyprus problem as the two centre parties historically take a far less flexible approach than either AKEL or the right-wing DISY.
"I hope he will be the man to solve Cyprus's problems but it will be more difficult now because of the promises he has made to other parties to win their support," said student George Xinisteris, 21.
There is concern over how he will handle the economy as AKEL is not known for its love of the free market or as a convert to globalisation. It has a Eurosceptic tendency and is wary of NATO, but Christofias has rejected claims he is anti-European, and insisted he will not nationalise the economy or discard any international agreements.
Cyprus hosts two large British military bases that house a string of super-sensitive listening posts that provide Western powers with intelligence on the Middle East and the former Soviet Union.
Cyprus has no post of prime minister and executive power rests essentially with the president who is elected for a five-year term.

Date created : 2008-02-25