Hardliner Dervis Eroglu (pictured) claimed victory in a Turkish Cypriot presidential poll on Sunday against incumbent Mehmet Ali Talat.
REUTERS - Dervis Eroglu, a backer of Turkish Cypriot independence, claimed victory in Sunday's presidential vote in northern Cyprus, which could slow talks to reunify the island and set back Turkey's EU hopes.
With 95 percent of the vote counted, Eroglu had 50.36 percent to incumbent Mehmet Ali Talat's 42.84 percent. If Eroglu keeps his levels above 50 percent a runoff will not be required on April 25.
"Winning an election is very nice, it's much better than losing," Eroglu told Reuters Television. "I am about to become a president chosen by the people's will at the ballot box."
"We will always work in co-operation with our motherland Turkey," Eroglu added in separate comments to supporters after claiming victory.
Diplomats have said an Eroglu victory could slow the pace of U.N.-backed reunification talks with Greek Cypriots in the Mediterranean island, divided along ethnic lines since a Turkish invasion in 1974, triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup.
Talat has led the talks on the northern side since they began in 2008.
The Greek Cypriots, who represent Cyprus in the European Union and do not recognise the breakaway enclave, have said they will stop Turkey joining the EU as long as the island remains divided.
Eroglu, now the prime minister of northern Cyprus, has said he will continue to negotiate, but his advertised positions are not acceptable to Greek Cypriots.
Eroglu wants more independence for each community in any peace settlement, a stance at odds with the basis of talks until now that the island should be a loose federation of two zones with an effective central government. He has also ruled out any Greek Cypriot return to land now held by Turks.
The conflict not only hampers Turkey's bid to join the EU, but also complicates decision making on defence issues between the EU and NATO, of which Turkey is a member.
Attempts to solve the conflict failed in 2004, just before the island joined the EU, when Turkish Cypriots accepted a U.N. peace blueprint but Greek Cypriots rejected it.
Turkey still has some 30,000 troops in northern Cyprus.
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