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European Union Congratulates Latvia on Vote to Join EU


The European Union has congratulated Latvia for voting to join the union. Latvia was the ninth of 10 countries slated to join the 15-nation bloc next year, which voted in favor of membership. Now, the European Union is looking toward Cyprus.

The president of the European Union's executive commission, Romano Prodi, said Latvia's decision Saturday to join the union, "should encourage all of us to work even harder in uniting the continent." He welcomed Latvia, saying its citizens will bring their talent and good will into the European family.

Now, Cyprus is the only one of the 10 candidate countries whose membership is left in doubt. Unlike other invited members, its lawmakers, not its voters, chose to enter the union. But there are political complications surrounding Cyprus' entry.

The island was divided into Greek and Turkish Cypriot areas after Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, and talks to reunite the island are deadlocked.

Rauf Denktash, leader of the Turkish Cypriot state, has rejected a U.N. reunification plan. He wants direct talks with Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos. While the Greek Cypriot government is internationally accepted, Mr. Denktash's state is recognized only by Turkey, which has 40,000 troops on the island.

The European Union has said it will not accept the Turkish side of Cyprus, unless it is reunified with the Greek part.

The Cyprus issue is also linked to Turkey's efforts to join the European Union. Brussels is to announce in 2004, if it believes Turkey is qualified to open formal negotiations.

Besides Latvia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Estonia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovenia and Slovakia have approved plans to join the European Union. They are to formally enter the bloc next May.

It will be the largest expansion of the Union, and if Cyprus joins will increase EU membership from 15 to 25 nations.

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