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Turkish Cypriots elect president

Candidate reiterates call for reunification of island, place in EU

NICOSIA, Cyprus -- A pro-European Union candidate was elected president of the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state yesterday, voted into office by Turkish Cypriots frustrated by decades of international isolation and a stagnant economy.

Mehmet Ali Talat's victory signaled the end of the rule of Rauf Denktash, the hard-liner who has dominated the enclave's politics for three decades. Talat won 56 percent of the vote for president of the self-declared Turkish Cypriot state, while his main rival, Dervis Eroglu, polled just 23 percent, according to official results with all of the ballot boxes counted.

''I want to underline again that Turkish Cypriots are calling for reunification and EU membership," Talat said after his victory was announced.

''I am also calling on the Greek Cypriot leaders that I am extending my hand for peace, and this hand will be there until it is held. I sincerely believe that one day this hand will be held," Talat said.

The island has been split into Turkish and Greek Cypriot sectors since the Turkish invasion, sparked by a failed coup by supporters of a union with Greece. Last year, the island joined the European Union, but EU benefits apply only to the south.

Talat also called on the EU to ''strongly support Turkish Cypriots" and said he was ready to meet with Tassos Papadopoulos, president of the internationally recognized government in the Greek Cypriot south to resolve issues such as cooperation with Greek Cypriot police and courts.

In the capital, overjoyed Talat supporters honked car horns and waved green party flags with Talat's picture on them.

Talat's pro-EU campaign has been especially popular with youths in Turkish Cyprus, where the incomes are just a fraction of Greek Cypriots' and the economy is heavily dependent on support from Turkey.

Talat said it was not clear when he would take over the presidency from Denktash, whose five-year term officially ends April 24.

Kypros Chrysostomides, Cyprus government spokesman, said the ''end of the presence of Rauf Denktash in the Turkish Cypriot leadership is a positive development."

The United States congratulated Talat on his victory.

''The United States welcomes this reaffirmation by Turkish Cypriots of their commitment to a comprehensive solution and reunification of the island," said Adam Ereli, deputy spokesman for the State Department.

A majority of Turkish Cypriots had backed a UN-supported reunification plan in a referendum last year, but Greek Cypriots voted it down. Talat had supported the plan, but both Denktash and Papadopoulos opposed it.

Turkish Cypriot support of the plan was a major letdown for Denktash, the most prominent politician in the north of the island since the Turkish invasion of 1974 and who has long demanded international recognition for his breakaway state. Denktash, 81, still has significant support on the island and has said he plans to keep lobbying against reunification.

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