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Greek Cypriots Vote for President


Greek Cypriots went to the polls Sunday to choose a president in what is being described as the island's most exciting election in recent history. Nathan Morley reports for VOA from Nicosia.

With the island's division entering its 34th year, there are growing fears that unless a new peace push is ignited between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, Cyprus will face permanent partition.

The election front-runner is incumbent President Tassos Papadopoulos, who urged voters to reject a U.N. peace plan designed to re-unite Cyprus in 2004. A majority of Greek Cypriots followed his lead and voted against the plan in a referendum, but Turkish Cypriots voted in favor of it.

Many in the international community are afraid that a Papadopoulos win would end any chance of a new series of talks between the two communities.

His two main election rivals are Communist Party leader Dimitris Christofias and Ioannis Kassoulides, a right-wing moderate and former foreign minister.

All candidates have prioritized reviving stalled peace talks as well as pledging a series of social packages for the aged, children and disabled.

European Parliament member Marios Matsakis is also running for president, he thinks candidates should be focusing on issues that touch the daily lives of Cypriots, such as health and education:

"We had legislation about the National Health Service passed 10 years ago and nothing has happened since. The schools and education system, it is an absolute disgrace," said Matsakis. "Forty percent of our school leavers go on to have a university education and 95 percent of them have to go abroad to study because we do not have enough university places in Cyprus."

The three main presidential hopefuls have spent an enormous amount of time and money visiting virtually every town and city on the island during their campaigns.

Thirty-six planes were chartered to help bring an estimated 20,000 expatriates to the island from the United States and Europe to cast their votes.

A series of television and newspaper polls suggest a close race between the three front-runners and pollsters think the result is likely to be settled in a run-off a week after the first vote.

President Papadopoulos remarked to VOA that he thinks the election will need a second vote next week.

"It seems that a two-round election is inevitable, but I would like to say this is a one-round election - the first round will determine who will be president," he said.

Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, but has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded in response to a coup in Nicosia backed by the Greek military government then in power in Athens.

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