Cyprus poll ousts Vassiliou

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The Independent Online
NICOSIA (Reuter) - The challenger, Glafcos Clerides, won the Cyprus presidential election by a whisker yesterday, signalling a tougher line towards a United Nations plan to reunite the island.

Mr Clerides, a 73-year-old laywer and standard bearer for the Greek-Cypriot conservative establishment, scored a surprise victory over the incumbent, George Vassiliou, in a second-round runoff. Final results gave him a majority of about 2,000 votes - 50.3 per cent to Communist-backed millionaire George Vassiliou's 49.7 per cent.

Mr Vassiliou telephoned Mr Clerides to congratulate him, then went on television to concede defeat and appeal for national unity. Supporters of the new president, in cars with horns blaring and flags waving, blocked streets in central Nicosia.

'My conscience is clear that in my five years I have done my best for Cyprus and its people,' said Mr Vassiliou, who ran as an independent candidate and beat Mr Clerides by 7 per cent in last Sunday's first round.

Voting is compulsory on the island, and more than 93 per cent of the 393,000 registered voters turned out.

Mr Vassiliou, 61, said he hoped Mr Clerides, the fourth elected president since Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960, would continue UN-sponsored efforts to unite the island as a federation of Greek and Turkish Cypriots. But Mr Clerides opposes key clauses in the UN plan to reunite Cyprus, divided in 1974 after a Turkish invasion.

Mr Clerides says the plan, put forward by Boutros Boutros- Ghali, the UN Secretary-General, and endorsed by the Security Council, violates basic human rights and blocks Cyprus' drive for European Community membership. He also says that transitional arrangements for federation could undermine the international recognition of the Greek Cypriot south and that plans for a new constitution are flawed.

Mr Clerides has pledged to pursue the Cyprus push for EC membership more vigorously than Mr Vassiliou. But he takes over at a time when the international community is showing impatience with lack of progress towards a Cyprus settlement.