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Opposition in Cyprus Wins Presidency

The incoming leader backs a harder line in reunification talks with island's Turks.

February 17, 2003|From Times Wire Services

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Greek Cypriot opposition leader Tassos Papadopoulos swept to victory in Sunday's presidential election after a campaign in which he criticized the incumbent for giving too much away in efforts to reunify this divided Mediterranean island.

Papadopoulos won 51.55% of the vote, thanks to strong backing from Communists and other leftists, while incumbent Glafcos Clerides received 38.8%, official results showed.

Clerides, 83, had been seeking a third term to complete negotiations on a U.N. plan to reunite Cyprus, which has been split since 1974 with Greeks in the south and Turks in the north. The United Nations has set a Feb. 28 deadline for agreement.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is to visit Cyprus this week in a last-ditch bid to win acceptance for the plan, which envisions reunification as a single state consisting of separate Greek and Turkish Cypriot "component states" linked via a loose central government.

Both Clerides and Papadopoulos have accepted the plan as a basis for negotiations, but Papadopoulos has been more critical about certain terms.

In his campaign, Papadopoulos, 69, highlighted restrictions on Greek Cypriots' right to return to former homes and wants assurances that the maximum number of mainland Turkish settlers will leave northern Cyprus.

Papadopoulos has tried hard to shake off a label pinned on him by opponents that he is a hard-liner, in contrast to Clerides, who is regarded as more accommodating to a settlement with Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf R. Denktash, whose government is recognized only by Turkey.

On Sunday, Papadopoulos said: "I want to convey a message of cooperation to my Turkish Cypriot counterparts for a just and viable solution.... We will exert every effort to see a reunited Cyprus."

One foreign observer said it would be hard to predict how talks with Turkish Cypriots would now swing.

"If he is going to be a hard-line ... figure for the Greek Cypriot side, we are a long way from a solution," said the source, requesting anonymity.

Clerides has been holding U.N.-sponsored reunification negotiations with Denktash for 10 years. In campaigning, he said he was best qualified to continue the delicate talks before Cyprus' possible admission into the European Union next year.

If the Feb. 28 U.N. deadline is not met, only the Greek Cypriot portion of the island will be able to sign its EU accession agreement by April 16. Turkey's own aspirations of joining the EU hinge partly on moving toward a settlement on Cyprus.

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