Page last updated at 18:05 GMT, Monday, 25 February 2008

Cyprus leaders seek fresh talks

Demetris Christofias speaking at campaign headquarters in Nicosia
Christofias has already arranged to meet the Turkish Cypriot president

The leaders of the divided Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities have voiced optimism that they can make progress towards reunification of the island.

The Cyprus President-elect, Demetris Christofias, said he had asked the UN to arrange a meeting with Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat.

Mr Christofias was speaking just hours after his election victory.

Decades of diplomatic efforts have failed to reunite the communities, who are separated by a UN buffer zone.

Mr Talat congratulated Mr Christofias on his election triumph and said "I believe that it won't be a surprise if we solve the problem by the end of 2008".

Mr Talat also called on Mr Christofias, a left-wing leader, to resume negotiations as soon as possible.

Decades-old division

The Greek and Turkish Cypriots have been divided since 1974, when Turkey sent troops into the north, after a coup by Greek Cypriots who wanted union with Greece.


Greek Cypriots rejected a UN peace plan in a referendum in 2004, while Turkish Cypriots accepted it.

The BBC's Tabitha Morgan in Cyprus says significant issues that have scuppered all previous diplomatic initiatives remain to be tackled. These include the Turkish troop presence in the north of the island.

Mr Talat said he did not want a repeat of 2004, when the Greek Cypriots "hid their real agenda until the last minute".

Speaking to Reuters news agency, Mr Christofias said: "I've already contacted the representative of the United Nations in Cyprus... the very first step will be an exploratory meeting with Mr Talat."

Earlier, the European Commission urged Mr Christofias to work towards a deal.

The very first step will be an exploratory meeting with Mr Talat
Demetris Christofias

Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso called on him to "grasp this chance and without delay start negotiations" under United Nations auspices.

The island's partition has long stood as an obstacle to Turkey's bid to join the EU, and remains a source of contention between Nato allies Turkey and Greece.

The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is only recognised by Turkey.

Support for talks

Mr Christofias defeated rival right-winger Ioannis Kasoulides in a second round of voting on Sunday.

Mr Kasoulides congratulated his rival and offered to help find a solution to the division of Cyprus.

The two men had emerged neck-and-neck from the first round of the election, which saw the defeat of President Tassos Papadopoulos.

Official figures showed Mr Christofias, who heads the communist Akel party, won 53.36% of the vote to Mr Kasoulides's 46.64% in Sunday's second round.

Mr Christofias is likely to find that any progress on reunification will be slow and difficult, our correspondent says.

Many sensitive issues remain unresolved, including the return of refugees, security and the constitution.

The president-elect has already made an alliance with the party of the defeated Mr Papadopoulos - the man who firmly rejected the last UN plan to solve the Cyprus problem.

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