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Last Updated: Friday, 18 February 2005, 19:38 GMT
Turkish Cypriots set for new vote
By Tabitha Morgan
BBC News, Nicosia

Turkish Cypriots will vote for a new parliament on Sunday. But they have little enthusiasm for the election.

Mehmet Ali Talat
Prime Minister Talat is likely to be forced to seek a coalition partner

This will be their third visit to the polling stations in just over a year, and in a few weeks they will have to vote yet again for a new president.

Most Turkish Cypriots want to see their island reunited and to join the European Union. The internationally unrecognised Turkish north of Cyprus remains isolated from the EU.

Sunday's election was called after the governing coalition of Mehmet Ali Talat collapsed last October when it could no longer maintain a parliamentary majority.

Opinion polls suggest that Mr Talat's pro-European Republican Turkish Party will be unlikely to win an outright majority and will once again be forced into a coalition with the much smaller Democrat Party of Serdar Denktash.

But Serdar Denktash - the son of veteran Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash - has not ruled out the possibility of forming an alliance with Mr Talat's main rival, the eurosceptic National Unity Party, if it wins enough seats. "I will be the kingmaker again," he said.

European dream

Last April, after months of intense political activity and unprecedented public debate in northern Cyprus, 65% of Turkish Cypriots voted in favour of reunification in an island-wide referendum.

Turkish Cypriots campaign for reunification
The majority of Turkish Cypriots voted for reunification

But because the vast majority of Greek Cypriots rejected the proposal Cyprus remains divided, with

Many Greek Cypriots felt the peace plan gave too many concessions to the Turkish side - not all Greek Cypriot refugees would get their homes back and Turkish troops would be allowed to stay on the island.

Despite this setback, at first Turkish Cypriots remained relatively optimistic that life would improve. Now, voters say that, for all the political fanfare and the promises of economic aid from Brussels, little has changed.

Turkish Cypriot GDP is around one-third that of the mainly Greek Cypriot south of the island.

This is largely because the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is not recognised as a legitimate state by the rest of the world. Only Turkey will trade with northern Cyprus or use its ports and airports.

After the referendum, Brussels promised to lift many of the international embargoes against northern Cyprus and to introduce a mechanism for European trade.

The EU clearly sympathises with the plight of Turkish Cypriots who have been excluded from EU membership by circumstances outside their control, namely the Greek Cypriot vote against reunification.

Isolation continues

But so far Brussels has failed to deliver. It has been blocked in its attempts to do so by the government of the Republic of Cyprus, which was accepted as an EU member in May 2004.

Map of Cyprus
Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos argues that if economic conditions in northern Cyprus improve significantly Turkish Cypriots will have no incentive to return to the negotiating table.

He hopes that in time he will be able to renegotiate a deal that would concede more to the island's Greek Cypriot community.

All this is a major problem for Mehmet Ali Talat, who came to power last year on the strength of his promises to end northern Cyprus' international isolation and bring its economy into Europe.

Many Turkish Cypriots who broadly supported this vision - like chocolate manufacturer Ahmet Cirakli - are now sceptical of promises from Brussels. "Twelve months have passed and we still can't sell any of our confectionery," Mr Cirakli says.

"Mr Talat is telling people sooner or later the European Union will change its mind, but I don't know how many more months we will be patient."

Although their patience may be wearing thin, voters like Mr Cirakli are still unlikely to vote for the eurosceptic National Unity Party, which they feel has failed to offer an alternative way forward.

More worrying for Mr Talat is the conviction - held by increasing numbers of Turkish Cypriots - that the election result will change nothing and that while President Papadopoulos remains in power in the south there is little prospect of an end to the island's division.

Many voters - unconvinced that the democratic process can actually change circumstances outside their control - could just decide to stay at home.

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