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Turk­ish Cypri­ots vote amid eastern Mediter­ranean ten­sions

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Nicosia, Cyprus - Turk­ish-held north­ern Cyprus, a break­away state recog­nised only by Ankara, was vot­ing on Sun­day for a new leader in a run-off elec­tion held amid height­ened ten­sions in the eastern Mediter­ranean.

The pres­i­den­tial vote pits in­cum­bent Mustafa Ak­inci (72) - who sup­ports re­uni­fi­ca­tion with the ma­jor­ity Greek-speak­ing Repub­lic of Cyprus in the south - against the rightwing Turk­ish na­tion­al­ist Ersin Tatar.

Tatar (60), who ad­vo­cates a two-state so­lu­tion, now holds the ti­tle of prime min­is­ter in the self-pro­claimed Turk­ish Repub­lic of North­ern Cyprus (TRNC). He has con­tro­ver­sially re­ceived the open back­ing of Tur­key’s Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan.

Un­der Er­do­gan, Tur­key has be­come an in­creas­ingly as­sertive re­gional power that is now en­gaged in a bit­ter dis­pute with EU states Greece and Cyprus over oil and gas re­serves in eastern Mediter­ranean waters.

The Euro­pean Union has de­plored Tur­key’s move and warned Ankara against fur­ther ‘provo­ca­tions’ while mul­ti­ple coun­tries have staged mil­i­tary drills in the re­gion in re­cent months.

One voter, Said Ke­nan (76) said Sun­day’s elec­tion was ‘very im­por­tant for me and for the com­mu­nity and for the Turk­ish Cypri­ots’, adding that he backed Ak­inci’s hopes for a ‘fed­eral so­lu­tion’ for the is­land di­vided since 1974.

Sun­day’s sec­ond-round bal­lot was trig­gered af­ter Tatar won 32 per cent of the vote on Oc­to­ber 11 ahead of Ak­inci, who gar­nered just un­der 30 per cent in a field of 11 can­di­dates.

But Ak­inci was seen to be in a stronger po­si­tion now, hav­ing won the back­ing of Tu­fan Erhur­man, a fel­low So­cial Demo­crat,

who came third last time around.

The 738 polling sta­tions were due to close at 6.00pm.

The polls come amid an eco­nomic cri­sis deep­ened by the COVID-19 pan­demic, which has largely shut­tered the tourism

sec­tor and led to the clo­sure of Er­can air­port in the north and cross­ing points to the south.

The TRNC, now with a pop­u­la­tion of about 300,000, was es­tab­lished af­ter the north was oc­cu­pied by Tur­key in 1974 in re

ac­tion to a coup that aimed to an­nex Cyprus to Greece.

Ear­lier in Oc­to­ber, Turk­ish troops an­gered the Repub­lic of Cyrus by re­open­ing public ac­cess to the fenced-off sea­side ghost town of Varosha for the first time since Turk­ish forces in­vaded the north. That move drew EU and UN crit­i­cism and sparked demon­stra­tions in the Repub­lic of Cyprus, which ex­er­cises its au­thor­ity over the is­land’s south­ern two-thirds, sep­a­rated from the north by a UN-pa­trolled buffer zone.

On the eve of the vote, GreekCypri­ot pro­test­ers again massed, at a check­point along the so­called ‘Green Line’, hold­ing signs that read ‘Cyprus is Greek’ and de­mand­ing the re­turn of north­ern ter­ri­to­ries.

Tur­key has re­peat­edly said it seeks to de­fend Turk­ish and Turk­ish Cypri­ots’ rights in the eastern Mediter­ranean against a group of na­tions in­clud­ing Greece and Cyprus. But Ak­inci’s re­la­tion­ship with Ankara has come un­der strain, es­pe­cially af­ter he de­scribed the prospect of the north’s annexation by Tur­key as ‘hor­ri­ble’ in Fe­bru­ary.

When Ak­inci took of­fice in 2015, he was hailed as the leader best placed to re­vive peace talks.

But hopes were dashed in July 2017 af­ter UN-me­di­ated ne­go­ti­a­tions col­lapsed in Switzer­land, no­tably over the ques­tion of the with­drawal of tens of thou­sands of Turk­ish sol­diers sta­tioned in the TRNC.

“The re­sults of the first round tell us this: Half of the Turk­ish Cypriot com­mu­nity de­fend a fed­er­a­tion de­spite all kinds of pres­sure,” Umut Bozkurt, vice dean and as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at Eastern Mediter­ranean Univer­sity, told AFP.

“This elec­tion was dom­i­nated more by Tur­key-north­ern Cyprus re­la­tions than the Cyprus is­sue.”

The first round’s re­sults show that a sig­nif­i­cant part of the elec­torate seek to be free of ‘pres­sure’ from Ankara and to live in a united Cyprus, she added.

 ?? (AFP) ?? Turk­ish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Ak­inci and his wife Meral cast their bal­lots at a vot­ing sta­tion in the north­ern part of Nicosia, dur­ing the sec­ond-round of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion on Sun­day
(AFP) Turk­ish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Ak­inci and his wife Meral cast their bal­lots at a vot­ing sta­tion in the north­ern part of Nicosia, dur­ing the sec­ond-round of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion on Sun­day

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