Breakaway Turkish Cypriots vote for leader in runoff

A supporter of Turkish Cypriot politician Mustafa Akinci waves a flag after presidential elections in Nicosia April 19, 2015. Akinci will move to a second round of leadership elections in north Cyprus after a vote on Sunday failed to produce a clear winner. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

NICOSIA, Cyprus: Turkish Cypriots voted for a new leader Sunday in a closely fought election pitting the conservative incumbent against a leftist who promises to inject new impetus into stalled peace talks on the divided island.

Some 177,000 voters in northern Cyprus face a choice between conservative Dervis Eroglu or left-wing independent Mustafa Akinci as they vote for a president to handle negotiations on a peace deal with Greek Cypriots.

"We have reached the end of a marathon. Today is an important date for the Turkish Cypriots. When the time come for a real change, no power can stop that change," Akinci told reporters as he cast his ballot.

In the first round of voting on April 19, Eroglu received 28.4 percent and Akinci 26.8 percent. Akinci's bid to win the run-off has been boosted by support from socialist candidate Sibel Siber, who polled third in the first round.

It was unclear how a 40 percent abstention rate in the first round could swing the vote on Sunday. Polling stations opened at 0500 GMT, with unofficial results expected by 1700 GMT, two hours after voting ends.

Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974, triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup. Its lingering division is a source of tension between NATO allies Greece and Turkey and also weighs on Turkish relations with the European Union, where Greek Cypriots represent the entire island.

"We've suffered a lot in the past. We don't want our children to suffer as well," said Huseyin Sefketoglu, 80, as he cast his vote on Sunday.

Reunification talks have limped on for years, leaving Turkish Cypriots in political isolation and tens of thousands of Cypriots on both sides internally displaced.

The United Nations says it expects talks to restart after a six-month hiatus next month.

Eroglu, 77, who was elected five years ago, said this would be his last campaign.

"It has become a political tradition to say I'm against a solution, but I am the one who has taken negotiations to the trade-off stage," he told local TV.

Akinci, 67, has worked closely with Greek Cypriots in the past and says he will actively pursue confidence-building measures with that community if elected. That includes potentially returning Varosha, a ghost town whose Greek Cypriot inhabitants fled from advancing Turkish troops in 1974.





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