Cyprus leader backs reunification
Newly elected president wants UN-brokered talks with Turkish Cypriot side of island.
Last Modified: 25 Feb 2008 20:12 GMT
Christofias, a communist, says he will not
tamper with Cyprus' market economy [AFP]

Demetris Christofias, Cyprus' newly elected president, says he has already sought a UN-brokered meeting with the Turkish Cypriot side of the divided island.
The European Union, the US and Britain have urged him to waste no time in ending the division, which has hindered Turkey's EU's accession efforts.
Chistofias, 64, also said he wanted to meet Mehmet Ali Talat, the Turkish Cypriot leader.
He said: "I've already contacted the representative of the United Nations in Cyprus. The very first step will be an exploratory meeting with Mr Talat."
Talas said: "I genuinely congratulate Mr Christofias and I call on him to co-operate in the process of negotiations which should start as soon as possible."
Christofias, a communist who says he will not tamper with the island's market economy, secured victory in Sunday's run-off election on a wave of discontent with his predecessor's hardline policies towards Turkish Cypriots.

Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, said in a statement to Christofias: "I would strongly encourage you to grasp this chance and without delay start negotiations under United Nations auspices with the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community on a comprehensive settlement."

The US and Britain also issued statements saying 2008 offered a window of opportunity and offering support.

Historic vote

The Cypriot press hailed the day as historic, both because Christofias becomes the island's first communist president, the only one in the 27-member EU, and because it presents a significant opportunity to end the island's stalemate.

"After five wasted years ... he has a moral obligation to try to make up for lost ground," wrote the Cyprus Mail.

The island has been split along ethnic lines since 1974 when Turkey invaded after a brief Greek-inspired coup.

Reunification efforts broke down in 2004 when Greek Cypriots rejected a UN plan and a divided Cyprus joined the EU soon after.

The EU recognises the Greek-Cypriot government in the south, where voting took place on Sunday, while only Turkey recognises the breakaway north.

A UN team was expected on the island by early April to assess the potential for a settlement, diplomats said.

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