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Turkish Cypriots Want EU Membership, but Not at 'Any Cost,' says  Denktash - 2003-12-15

Veteran Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash says the results of parliamentary elections in Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus shows that his people are in favor of joining the European Union. But Mr. Denktash adds that the outcome of Sunday's ballot also indicated that Turkish Cypriots are not prepared to make peace at any cost with fellow Greek islanders.

Rauf Denktash, who has led negotiations on behalf of the Turkish community on the divided Mediterranean island for three decades, says four parties that won seats in the Sunday vote have two months to form a government. If they fail, he said, he would be forced to call new elections.

The breakaway republic of northern Cyprus is recognized only by Turkey, and establishing a government there will be no easy task.

Proponents and opponents of a plan to unify Cyprus appear nearly evenly matched, and the outcome of the elections appears to have dashed hopes of an early resolution of the long-running dispute between Turkish and Greek Cypriots.

With all of the votes counted, a coalition of three parties favoring unification won a slim majority. This coalition supports a U.N.-sponsored plan spearheaded by Mr. Denktash.

Because of how the districts are structured, the sides were expected to share evenly the 50 seats in the assembly.

Mehmet Ali Talat, the leader of the chief opposition Republican People's Party that defeated the ruling National Unity for the first time, has vowed not to enter a coalition with any of his right-wing opponents, further complicating the formation of a new government.

Cyprus has been partitioned between a Greek south and a Turkish north since Turkish troops invaded in 1974 to counter a short-lived coup mounted by Greek Cypriot nationalists and backed by Athens.

The peace plan proposed by the United Nations was designed to allow both parts of Cyprus to join the European Union by creating a loose federal state that gives each ethnic community broad powers.

The European Union has said it would allow the Greek portion to join in the spring regardless of whether a peace deal is finalized.

Opposition parties insist that this plan is the best and last chance for peace. But Mr. Denktash and his allies say it will pave the way for Greek hegemony over the island.

Some analysts say Turkey, whose own chances of joining the European Union hinge on a speedy resolution of the Cyprus problem, will push for a government of national unity.