Leading article: A reconciliation long overdue

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The election of a new president in Cyprus brings the best chance in years to break the deadlock that has divided Cyprus since 1974 when a coup by Greek Cypriots, who wanted union with Greece, was countered by the invasion of the island by Turkish troops. In advance of this week's election, the man who won, Demetris Christofias, had signalled that change was a priority. He has already arranged a meeting with Mehmet Ali Talat, the leader of the Turkish Cypriots in the north of the partitioned island. The two men have had friendly relations for a number of years.

The world will not hold its breath. There have been many false dawns over the years. There are big problems to solve in a conflict that has brought Greece and Turkey, both members of Nato, close to war three times in as many decades. Turkish Cypriots accounted for just 18 per cent of the population before Turkish forces seized 37 per cent of the island. There are thorny issues about the recovery of Greek property in the north, about the return home of refugees, and about whether some Turkish troops should remain on the island. There are 80,000 Turks who settled on the island after the invasion who want to stay. There is Turkey's refusal to open up its trade to southern Cyprus, and Greek opposition to EU efforts to establish direct trade and economic links with northern Cyprus.

The last, complicated, UN peace plan was scuppered in 2004 by Greek Cypriots who had been foolishly promised admission to the EU regardless of how they voted on the plan. But the man who masterminded their intransigence, Tassos Papadopoulos – a hard-line nationalist who fought the British for independence in the 1950s, and in the 1990s set up companies through the Milosevic regime circumvented a UN embargo – has now been ousted as President.

A solution is important, for Cyprus is a key piece in the international jigsaw. The island's partition has long stood as an obstacle to Turkey's bid to join the EU, a development that could help bring Islam into cohabitation with the West – a task given added urgency as Turkey teeters on the brink of war in the Kurdish regions.

The widespread international recognition of the independence of Kosovo has concentrated Greek Cypriot minds on the fact that the centrifugal forces of the post-Cold War world suggest that separation is the solution for ethnically, religiously, linguistically and culturally different communities. Permanent partition is a solution the Greek Cypriots have always abhorred. Political will has been the missing ingredient in Cyprus for many years. That may now be about to change.

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