The 5-Minute Briefing: A new era for Cyprus?

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The Independent Online

Is Cyprus heading for reunification after the election of a new Turkish Cypriot president?

Is Cyprus heading for reunification after the election of a new Turkish Cypriot president?

Greek and Turkish Cypriots would like to hope so, after Mehmet Ali Talat, the new pro-settlement President, was elected in Northern Cyprus on Sunday. But the island has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded the North after a Greek-engineered coup. Because of the failure to agree a settlement, the Greek Cypriots joined the European Union last year in the name of the whole island.

What was the significance of Sunday's election?

The election of the new president marked the end of an era with the departure of Rauf Denktash. The pugnacious 81-year-old Turkish Cypriot, known as "Mr No", presided for three decades over the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which was recognised only by Turkey. He rejected all attempts to reunite the island.

What's the basis for a settlement?

It's likely to be an amended version of the Annan plan, which was rejected in a referendum last year by the Greek Cypriots, who complained that the proposed loose federation unfairly favoured the north. The UN secretary general, who put his reputation on the line last year, is considering sending an envoy to take soundings on reviving talks, with US backing. But in the light of the referendum disaster, Kofi Annan won't want to renew negotiations unless all sides are serious about finding a solution. A comfortable majority of Turkish Cypriots voted in favour of the UN plan to reunite the island, despite Mr Denktash's outspoken opposition.

So the ball is in the Greek Cypriots' court?

Broadly speaking yes. After years of accusing Turkish Cypriots of blocking a settlement because of Mr Denktash's intransigence, it is the Greek Cypriot President, Tassos Papadopoulos, who is now on the defensive.

What are the sticking points?

The issues that must be dealt with in any settlement include the presence of Turkish troops in the north, the status of the 120,000 Turkish settlers from the mainland, and the rights of thousands of Greek Cypriots displaced by the Turkish invasion to return to property in the North that had been seized.

What sort of pressure can be applied?

After the referendum, Britain and the rest of the EU decided to explore trade and aid measures that would end the North's isolation. An aid package of 260m euros is being discussed, to help boost economic integration with the more wealthy south.

Like the EU, the US has mentioned possible closer trade links with the north, such as direct flights, to raise the pressure on Nicosia. Pressure can also be exerted on the Turkish government as Turkey prepares to join the EU, where Cyprus now has a veto over the Turkish membership terms. The Greek Cypriots say that it is inconceivable that Turkey can expect to join the EU while the Cyprus problem remains unresolved.