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Poll clouds peace-talk effort between Cypriots

Associated Press / April 17, 2010

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NICOSIA, Cyprus — Turkish Cypriots vote tomorrow for a new leader in an election cast as a choice between a dovish incumbent striving for reunification with rival Greek Cypriots and a hard-line challenger seeking to bolster a breakaway state.

Opinion polls show most of the tiny breakaway state’s 164,000 voters choosing right-winger Dervis Eroglu to replace Mehmet Ali Talat. If the election bears out the poll predictions, it will be a stunning reversal from five years ago, when the leftist leader swept to power on a pro-peace platform.

A Turkish Cypriot swing to the right has sparked fears that slow-moving reunification talks between Talat and Dimitris Christofias, the island’s Greek Cypriot president, could be scuttled. Failure at the negotiating table would halt Turkey’s drive for European Union membership and cripple closer EU-NATO security cooperation

Cyprus is already blocking parts of Turkey’s EU membership negotiation process because of Ankara’s refusal to recognize the Greek Cypriot government.

Cyprus was split into an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north in 1974. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, with a population of 257,000, is recognized only by NATO-member Turkey, which maintains 35,000 troops there. The island joined the EU in 2004, but only the south’s 800,000 Greek Cypriots enjoy membership benefits.