|Dervis Eroglu vowed to continue peace talks. (Associated Press)|
NICOSIA, Cyprus — Hard-line challenger Dervis Eroglu won a key Turkish Cypriot leadership election yesterday and vowed to continue peace talks amid fears his victory could grind reunification negotiations with the Greek Cypriots to a halt and scuttle Turkey’s bid for European Union membership.
Eroglu won just enough votes for an outright victory, with 50.38 percent compared to leftist incumbent Mehmet Ali Talat’s 42.85 percent, according to results posted on the Turkish Cypriot High Electoral Board’s website. Candidates needed 50 percent plus one vote to avoid a runoff. It was a much closer race than expected; opinion polls had consistently predicted Eroglu to win by a wide margin.
Eroglu assured supporters who rushed to his party headquarters in the Turkish Cypriot half of the island’s divided capital that he would not abandon negotiations aimed at reunifying the island. “It’s time to find peace,’’ he said.
The island’s division is hampering Turkey’s EU drive and could halt it if peace talks collapse. Since Turkey is a NATO member, such a move could cripple closer cooperation between the military alliance and the EU and increase instability.
Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Turkish Cypriots declared their half of the island to be an independent republic in 1983, but Turkey is the only nation that recognizes it.