Turkish Cypriots vote in poll critical for peace talks, EU bid
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Voters in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus voted in presidential elections on Sunday in a poll that could prove critical for the future of UN-sponsored reunification talks and for Turkey’s bid to join the EU.
AFP - The self-declared Turkish Cypriot statelet in northern Cyprus held a presidential election on Sunday that could put a hardliner in power and jeopardise UN talks to reunify the Mediterranean island.
Voters lined up before casting their ballots at more than 600 polling stations, which stayed opened for 10 hours, at major centres in the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).
In the capital Nicosia, stations bustled with voters.
The polls closed at 6 pm (1500 GMT) and unofficial results were expected about two hours later, as Turkish Cypriot media gave a high 70-percent estimate for the turnout.
Dozens of elderly people, including some in wheelchairs, were among those queuing to choose their next president at one of around 10 schools transformed into polling stations in the centre of the capital.
A total of 164,072 people, of a population of about 250,000, were registered as voters in the TRNC, which declared independence unilaterally in 1983.
UN-brokered talks are on hold until after the vote which pitted incumbent Mehmet Ali Talat -- who is seen as backing a settlement with Greek Cypriots -- against veteran politician Dervis Eroglu, tipped as favourite.
Talat voted in the port town of Kyrenia while Eroglu, whom opinion polls have given a 10 percent lead, voted in Famagusta. Five other candidates were not expected to win much support.
Disappointment at the lack of progress in the peace talks, together with the TRNC's ongoing political and economic isolation and accusations of nepotism have undermined support for Talat.
Although his commitment to the talks with Greek Cypriots is considered doubtful, Eroglu has given assurances he will not abandon the negotiations. But he has also said he will not actively push for a settlement.
"We want the peace process to continue," he said on Sunday. "There's no question of pulling out of the talks."
Voter Ahmed Osman, 60, told AFP that Talat had failed to make progress in the reunification talks.
"He even understands that the Greek Cypriot side is reluctant to reach an agreement," he said, further emphasising his opposition to the existing president but without revealing his choice of candidate.
Eroglu, 72, heads the right-wing National Unity Party (UBP) which last April defeated the leftist Republican Turkish Party (CTP) formerly headed by Talat, 58, in a legislative election.
Veteran Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, 86, who had already declared his support for Eroglu, voted in Nicosia.
Talat has held 18 months of reunification talks with President Demetris Christofias, the Greek Cypriot leader and head of the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus, a member of the European Union.
The talks, launched in September 2008, are predicated on a federal solution, with distinct geographical zones for the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities.
But Eroglu has for years favoured a two-state solution, which is vehemently rejected by the Greek Cypriots.
Last month, Christofias and Talat announced important progress in the talks and vowed to reach a comprehensive settlement this year in a move that was widely seen as a bid to boost the Turkish Cypriot leader's election prospects.
But the two sides remain far apart on the key issues of property and security.
Only Turkey recognises the TRNC, and Ankara still keeps some 35,000 troops there. Turkey occupied the northern third of Cyprus in 1974 in response to a Greek Cypriot coup aimed at uniting the Mediterranean island with Greece.