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Cyprus: Denktash Appoints Pro-EU Party to Form New Government

Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash has appointed the head of a pro-European Union party to form the next government in northern Cyprus. Mr. Denktash's decision comes two weeks after elections ended with parliament evenly split between parties favoring and opposing a United Nations plan, devised by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, to reunify the divided island.

The Turkish Republican Party is now under pressure to form a new government, and if it fails to do so by the start of February, new elections must be held. Mr. Denktash named the Republican Turkish Party, or RTP, which is led by Mehmet Ali Talat, to form the next government. The RTP is in an alliance with another pro-EU party, and together they have 25 seats in the 50-member parliament.

Mr. Talat has said he could form a coalition with any party on condition that the new government presses forward with the U.N. plan that is aimed at reuniting breakaway northern Cyprus with the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south.

Mr. Talat insisted the U.N. proposal is his main priority. "The U.N. plan is the only plan that is on our agenda, so any government will be formed to proceed in the lines of the Annan plan, so we have to immediately start negotiations, that was our target," he says. "So we will consult with Turkey and demand from the secretary general [Kofi Annan] to start negotiations and finalize till May 2004, which is the final entrance of Cyprus to the European Union."

Mr. Talat hopes to replace Rauf Denktash as the Turkish Cypriot negotiator at any future peace talks. Mr. Denktash has opposed the U.N. plan, calling it a "sell-out. Turkish Cypriots are under increasing pressure to find a solution to the 29-year division of the island, before the Greek Cypriot south joins the European Union in May 2004.

The self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus will be excluded from the European Union unless Greek and Turkish Cypriot politicians sign a Cyprus reunification agreement by the May deadline.