NICOSIA (Reuters) - Dervis Eroglu won a presidential vote in northern Cyprus promising more sovereignty for Turkish Cypriots, but he may have to soften his stance to avoid alienating the territory’s main backer, Turkey.
Eroglu, who currently serves as prime minister, defeated the incumbent Mehmet Ali Talat, who had sought closer links with Greek Cypriots, after taking 50.4 percent of the vote Sunday.
A doctor by training, Eroglu, 72, has said he will resume peace talks with Demetris Christofias, the Greek Cypriot leader, but has ruled out the return of ethnic Greeks to the Turkish-held north. He says he will seek a two-state confederation in any final settlement.
Turkey, the only country to recognise northern Cyprus, backed Talat as he pushed for an end to the decades-old dispute on the island, seeing it as the best chance to bring Turkish Cypriots into the EU and pave Ankara’s way to join the bloc.
“I’ve lived through the bad days of the past,” Eroglu told reporters after claiming victory, referring to violence between Cyprus’ ethnic Greeks and Turks that led to the collapse of power sharing in 1963, 3 years after independence from Britain.
Drumming home his message of ‘two sides for two people’, he said: “I seek a solution based on the realities of the island and a solution that all of us can live with.”
But Eroglu has also said he will work closely with the mainland, which he refers to as “our motherland Turkey.”
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan Sunday warned Eroglu he must continue talks and that he wanted a deal in 2010.
Ankara’s support for northern Cyprus costs $700 million (457.7 million pounds) a year and it has 30,000-troops stationed on the sliver of land twice the size of London.
Any secessionist proposals are a red flag for Greek Cypriots, who represent Cyprus in the European Union and will bar Turkey from joining until there is a settlement.
Diplomats have warned that a hardline Turkish Cypriot stance could wreck the peace process, the latest in a series of efforts, including U.N. mediation, to resolve the dispute.
Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 after a short-lived Greek Cypriot coup engineered by the military then ruling in Athens.
Eroglu eschews the label of hardliner and says he is a centre-right democrat who will continue the peace process. Some analysts have said Eroglu will be hard-pressed to rebuff Turkish pressure to make peace.
“Eroglu is a pragmatist. He will talk with the Greek Cypriots and negotiate as much as Christofias,” said Mete Hatay of the Peace Research Institute Oslo’s Cyprus Centre.
“Turkey is involved, and it will not let Eroglu create a lot of headaches. He will have to try and negotiate in good faith.”
Eroglu speaks Greek, according to a biography, and was born in a village near Famagusta, northern Cyprus.
His father was killed fighting for the British army in Poland during World War Two when he was a toddler.
Eroglu becomes the third Turkish Cypriot president since the breakaway enclave declared statehood in 1983 and has said this will be his last election.
He entered politics in 1976 and was first elected prime minister in 1985. He and Talat faced off for the post of president in 2005, when Eroglu took just 23 percent of the vote compared to Talat’s 56 percent.