Rauf Denktash's comments on Monday came after parliamentary elections on the divided island ended in a draw.

Following the result which left pro-EU and nationalist forces deadlocked, it now seems an early resumption of peace talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots is unlikely.

The vote also carried wider importance for the enlargement process of the European Union.

Brussels had hoped a victory by opposition parties would pave the way for the revival of stalled peace talks, to end the island's 29-year-old division between its Turkish and Greek communities.

Political bickering

Protracted political bickering could now eat into the already limited time left for a settlement before May 2004 when the Republic of Cyprus joins the EU.

The EU called on Monday for the resumption of negotiations "without delay".

But Denktash, who in March rejected a EU-backed plan by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to reunite Cyprus, downplayed such a possibility.

"I wished one of the sides had won. Now it is chaos. There is nothing worse than uncertainty" 

Ali Canap Saygin,
Nicosia shopkeeper
 

"The secretary-general has said he will invite the two sides (for new talks) if the two sides agree. And there is no agreement yet," he said.

He added Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos "has discarded me, by saying that there can be no agreement while Denktash is around".

Turkey's EU ambitions

The pro-EU Turkish Cypriot opposition was planning to oust Denktash from his job of chief negotiator if it had won a parliamentary majority.

Only the Greek Cypriot side will join the EU in May next year if efforts to resolve the island's division fail.

Failure to reunify the island could also affect Turkey's own aspirations to join the European club. Brussels has warned Ankara its membership attempt will suffer if a solution is not found.

Turkish troops have held Northern Cyprus since 1974 when they intervened in response to a Greek Cypriot coup aimed at uniting Cyprus with Greece.

As Northern Cyprus is recognised only by Ankara, they will be deemed to be occupying an EU member state, once Cyprus joins.

Parliament deadlock

"I wished one of the sides had won. Now it is chaos. There is nothing worse than uncertainty," said Ali Canap Saygin, a 32-year-old shopkeeper in Nicosia.

"I do not think that a settlement will be now possible by May."

The main pro-EU opposition Republican Turkish Party (CTP), which finished the election first by a small margin, won 19 parliamentary seats, while its partner, the Peace and Democracy Movement (BDH), got six.

Their opponents, the National Unity Party (UBP) and the Democrat Party (DP), won 18 and seven seats respectively.

Observers said one formula that could untie the knot could be a coalition between the two pro-EU parties and the DP, the more moderate on the nationalist side.

"The secretary-general has said he will invite the two sides (for new talks) if the two sides agree. And there is no agreement yet"

Rauf Denktash,
Turkish Cypriot leader

Coalitions

In his election campaign, CTP leader Mehmet Ali Talat, who is now claiming the prime minister's mandate, had pledged not to form coalitions with parties from the opposite bloc.

But following the election draw, he refrained from outright rejection of such a plan.

"Nothing should be deemed impossible in politics," he said.

Ankara's position could also influence developments. Turkish Foreign Minister, Abd Allah Gul, warned the opposition that it could not ignore Turkey and act alone in efforts to end the island's partition.

He later said the election message in Cyprus had been "very clear".

"The people desire a solution on one hand and give importance to Denktash's opinions on the other hand."