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Turkish Cypriot Leaders Vow New Efforts to Re-unite Island - 2004-04-24

Turkish Cypriot leaders say they will continue efforts to re-unite the divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus despite an overwhelming rejection Saturday of a United Nations peace plan by Greek Cypriots.

Speaking at a news conference after results of twin referenda on the U.N. plan in the Greek and Turkish controlled parts of the island were announced Mehmet Ali Talat, the chief negotiator for the Turkish Cypriot community vowed to continue the quest for peace on the island.

Mr Talat said he would also seek to the end the political and economic isolation of the Turkish dominated north of the island which has been under an international economic blockade ever since Turkish troops intervened in the island in 1974.

Mr Talat said his administration would as of Monday be launching a diplomatic offensive to that end. Mr Talat said the Turkish Cypriots had proved to the entire world their desire to live peacefully with the islands Greek Cypriot majority by voting resoundingly in favor of the U-N peace plan.

Official returns showed 76 percent of Greek Cypriots voting against and 65 percent of Turkish Cypriots voting in favour of the U.N. brokered deal which calls for a loose federation of Turkish and Greek Cypriot states.

Approval of the plan on both sides would have enabled some 200,000 Turkish Cypriots to join the European Union on May 1st together with the Greek Cypriots who were guaranteed membership of the European bloc regardless of Saturday's outcome.

Cyprus has remained divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded the Turkish north in response to a failed coup attempt by Greek Cypriot nationalists to join the island with Greece. Turkey has been pushing hard for a settlement to the long running dispute in a bid to persuade EU leaders to agree on giving Turkey a date to begin membership negotiations later this year. EU leaders have made clear they will not do so unless Turkey throws its weight behind a settlement.

Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul told a news conference Saturday that the EU could no longer blame Turkey for the continued division of the island. Mr Gul said both Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots had done every thing they could for peace and that the Greek Cypriots could no longer claim to represent the whole island.

Mr Gul echoed Mr Talat's call for an end to the international isolation of the Turkish Cypriots.