Sunday, April 19, 2009

Deal at risk as N Cyprus votes

Turkish Cypriots are voting in northern Cyprus in parliamentary elections that could hamper efforts to reunite the divided island.

Polls show the ruling Republican Turkish Party (CTP) trailing the right-wing National Unity Party (UBP).

The CTP backs Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, who has been making progress in talks with Greek Cypriots.

Campaigning has focused on the peace talks, which relaunched in September last year, and the economy.

Cyprus has been split since a Turkish invasion in 1974, that followed a brief Greek-inspired coup in Nicosia.

A United Nations buffer zone - the "green line" - currently separates the two communities. The breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is recognised only by Turkey, and is subject to a trade embargo.

Fragile process

Mr Talat and Greek Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias have agreed in principle on a future federal structure for Cyprus, although several issues are still to be resolved.

But the UBP, which recent opinion polls put several points ahead of the centre-left CTP, wants the island to remain divided and has its sights on a two-state model.

Analysts say a win for the UBP could make it harder for Mr Talat to negotiate.

About 160,000 people are eligible to vote in the elections. Polls opened at 0800 (0500 GMT) and will close 10 hours later. Results are expected around midnight (2100 GMT).

The last attempt at a negotiated solution to the Cypriot problem - in 2004 - collapsed when Turkish Cypriots voted in favour of a UN settlement plan which was rejected by Greek Cypriot voters.

As a result, Cyprus - or the southern part ruled by Greek Cypriots - joined the European Union that year, while the north remained effectively excluded.