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Turkish Cypriot Leaders Close to Forming Coalition Government - 2004-01-12

Politicians in the breakaway Turkish sector of Northern Cyprus are taking the final steps toward forming a new coalition government. The cabinet is to be split between supporters and opponents of the latest U.N. plan for the island's reunification. The new government is to guide the future of a region that is to be left out when the rest of Cyprus joins the European Union in May.

The new government will be a coalition between the Turkish Republican Party (RTP), which wants to pursue reunification with the Greek sector, and the Democrat Party (DP), which opposes reunification under anything like the U.N. plan.

The head of the Republican Party, Mehmet Ali Talat, is pushing for a swift return to talks on the U.N. plan, which is aimed at reuniting the northern Turkish sector of Cyprus with the internationally recognized government of the Greek-Cypriot south.

In statements on Cyprus Television, Mr. Talat said the coalition was formed on the understanding that it would aim for a solution to the island's division by May 1, the day the southern part of the island will join the European Union.

But his coalition partner, the Democrat Party, is headed by Serdar Denktash, the son of the veteran Turkish-Cypriot President Rauf Denktash, who rejected the U.N. plan last March, calling it a sellout for his people.

Serdar Denktash was also a vocal opponent of the U.N. plan. But in recent weeks he appears to have warmed to the idea of opening a new series of talks with the Greek Cypriots. He will be deputy prime minister and foreign minister in the new government. But his father will keep his role as the chief negotiator in reunification talks.

In an interview with VOA, Greek-Cypriot government spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides said the political developments in the north do not make him optimistic about progress soon on the plan sponsored by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

“The fact that Mr. Denktash remains as chief negotiator and his son Mr. Serdar Denktash is now forming a co-operation after the voting of December with Mr. Talat seems to denote that the Denktash line continues to be the line to be adopted by Turkey and Turkish Cypriots,” he said. “These are very bad omens for the correct approach for the Cyprus problem and the re-commencement of negotiations as our side would expect on the basis of the Annan plan.”

Turkish-Cypriots are under pressure to reach a peace settlement with the Greek Failure to clinch a deal will mean the Turkish Cypriots will be even further isolated from the international community.

Turkey, the only country to recognize the northern Cypriot enclave, is also eager to end the island's division. Turkish officials have met with President Denktash to discuss the issue in recent months. They do not want the dispute in Cyprus to hurt Turkey's chances of joining the European Union, which it has been working toward for many years.

In recent weeks, the United States has also called for Turkish, Greek and Cypriot leaders to start immediate talks on reunifying the island based on the U.N. plan. President Bush will discuss the Cyprus division in a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan later this month in Washington.