Cyprus breakaway north Turkey-backed leader takes oath

Nicosia (AFP) –

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Ankara-backed Ersin Tatar, the newly elected leader for the breakaway north of the divided island of Cyprus, took the oath of office on Friday.

Voters in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) on Sunday narrowly elected the right-wing nationalist as their president at a time of heightened tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.

An advocate of a two-state solution with the Republic of Cyprus -- an EU member -- he edged out previous Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, 72, a supporter of reunification with the Greek Cypriot south.

Tatar, a 60-year-old former "prime minister", clinched his surprise victory in a second round of presidential elections, winning 51.7 percent of the vote.

On Friday he took the oath of office at a ceremony in the north in the presence of Vice President Fuat Oktay of Turkey, the only country that recognises the TRNC's statehood.

Cyprus has been divided since Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third in 1974 in reaction to a Greek-engineered coup aiming to annex the island.

On Monday, Republic of Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and Tatar agreed in a phone call to meet in the UN-patrolled buffer zone that has for decades separated the north and the south.

A spokesman for Anastasiades said the Greek Cypriot leader had "proposed to Mr. Tatar to meet as soon as possible for a first acquaintance and contact, something Mr. Tatar accepted".

UN Secretary-General Antonio Gueterres has said he wants to rekindle talks between the two sides after the elections in the north.

The last attempt at UN-mediated negotiations collapsed in Switzerland in July 2017.

The UN is now expected to convene a meeting between the two sides, Turkey, Greece -- the key ally of Greek Cypriots -- as well as former colonial ruler Britain.

In his victory speech, Tatar said he would return to the negotiating table "when necessary", but said that Turkish Cypriots would "not compromise" on certain points essential to their "sovereignty".

"Our neighbours in the south and world community should respect our fight for freedom," Tatar said.

The TRNC is economically and politically dependent on Turkey -- not least because some 30,000 Turkish troops are on Cypriot soil.

In a call with Tatar after his victory, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said their cooperation would continue "starting with activities related to hydrocarbons".

Northern Cyprus is a centrepiece of Turkey's strategy in the eastern Mediterranean, including a bitter dispute with Greece and Cyprus over oil and gas reserves.

The European Union has deplored Turkey's drilling for hydrocarbons in disputed waters and warned Ankara against further "provocations".