January 28, 2018 / 3:07 AM / a year ago

Cyprus presidential poll heads for runoff, frontrunners to seek allies

ATHENS (Reuters) - Incumbent Nicos Anastasiades will face leftist-backed candidate Stavros Malas in a presidential runoff on Feb. 4, election results showed on Sunday, in a race that could define whether peace talks with Turkish Cypriots can resume this year.

Cyprus presidential candidate Nicos Anastasiades of the right-wing Democratic Rally party addresses journalists after voting for a presidential election at a polling station in Limassol, Cyprus January 28, 2018. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

With all cast ballots counted, Anastasiades led with 35.5 percent of votes, against 30.25 percent for Malas. Centrist Nikolas Papadopoulos was third on 25.75 percent.

The top two will have a week to win over the trailing candidates, who have taken a harder line on negotiations for a peace deal to end a conflict that has outlived the Cold War and strained relations between NATO allies Greece and Turkey.

Election campaigns are typically dominated by the division of Cyprus in 1974 between its Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot population after a Turkish invasion triggered by a brief coup engineered by Greece.

The Cyprus president represents the Greek Cypriot community in reunification talks with the Turkish Cypriot side.

Those talks, which also included Greece, Turkey and former colonial power Britain, collapsed in acrimony last year amid disagreement over the role Turkey would play in a future reunited country.

“It seems that there will be another initiative, or at least an attempt by the international community to jump-start the peace talks again,” said Ahmet Sozen, professor of political science and international relations at Eastern Mediterranean University in northern Cyprus.

No leader in either the Turkish or Greek Cypriot community could afford the luxury of rebuffing a call from the United Nations, Sozen said.

BITTER

This campaign’s tone has been particularly bitter. Third-placed Papadopoulos had accused Anastasiades of making too many concessions to Turkish Cypriots in talks last year. Malas was portrayed as too malleable in seeking to resume talks as soon as possible.

The parties backing both Anastasiades and Malas have previously forged alliances with Papadopoulos and the party backing him in past elections.

Although both the Greek and Turkish Cypriot sides have agreed in principle to unite Cyprus as a two-state federation, there are profound differences on how it will work in practice, even among the same community.

At issue are geographical boundaries, property rights of thousands who were forced to leave their homes in conflict, rights to physical settlement, voting processes and whether other countries should maintain troops on the island.

At present, Cyprus’s two main ethnic groups are separated by a United Nations peacekeeping force, one of the oldest in the world. Many worry that the present status quo is unsustainable.

Slideshow (6 Images)

“Things might look stable, but things are not static,” said Sozen.

The Turkish Cypriot community in the north was rattled last week by an attack by individuals on a Turkish Cypriot newspaper critical of Turkey’s campaign in northern Syria.

Separately, up to 5,000 Turkish Cypriots demonstrated in freezing rain on Friday to protest against that attack and perceived Turkish interference in their affairs.

Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and David Goodman

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