Cyprus divide narrows after poll

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The Independent Online
THE WEEKEND re-election of outgoing President Glavkos Clerides signals an intensified effort for a Cyprus settlement - amid hints of a more conciliatory line from Rauf Denktash, the hitherto intransigent leader of the Turkish Cypriots.

As expected, Mr Clerides' victory was paper-thin. The final results of Sunday's runoff gave him 50.8 per cent of the vote, compared with 49.2 per cent for George Iakovou, the former foreign minister, who was promising fresh ideas to heal the division of the island, split along ethnic lines since the Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus in July 1974.

The task facing him is huge - involving not only the search for a settlement with the Turks, but also Cyprus' entry negotiations into the European Union. "Now we need to get down to work," Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary said last night.

Alas, far from providing a catalyst for a settlement, the EU issue threatens to divide the communities further, with Mr Denktash insisting that the internationally-recognised Greek Cypriot government has no right to negotiate on behalf of the Turks.

Yesterday however the Turkish Cypriot leader seemed to yield some ground. Instead of demanding full recognition for his self-styled Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, he simply called for "direct talks" between "two peoples who have been ruling themselves separately".

Even assuming a genuine desire to create a single bizonal state, the gulf between the sides remains enormous. But Mr Denktash must contend with the appeal of the economic benefits of EU membership to many of his compatriots. That yearning has increased all the more as Turkey's own problems have deepened, and an international embargo severs the Northern economy from the rest of the world.

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