- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 16, 2008

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Leading candidates in tomorrow’s Greek Cypriot presidential election have virtually ruled out prospects for a compromise with the Turkish side on how to unite the Mediterranean island.

Incumbent President Tassos Papadopoulos said he would never accept a plan suggested by “foreigners,” including former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

“In no case will I accept the return of the Annan plan or a version of it under another name,” he said.

The plan, accepted by Turkish Cypriots but rejected by the Greek side in a referendum in 2004, proposed a binational federal solution to the island’s partition.

Demetris Christofias, candidate of the Communist Progressive Party of the Working People, or AKEL, pledged: “We will fight not to give Turkey 37 percent of our land” — a reference to the part of Cyprus forming the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

The electoral campaign was dominated by promises of tax breaks and a variety of subsidies that all candidates lavished on the electorate, reducing the references to the island’s protracted division to traditional slogans and views. Some feel that the election, which concerns only the Greek Cypriot community of 650,000, will underline and possibly solidify the island’s division because of the intransigence of the candidates.

The election is being carefully watched by Turkey, which keeps 35,000 troops in northern Cyprus, refuses to recognize the Greek Cypriot government and blames the Greek Cypriots for the island’s problems.

Some 20,000 voters have been flown to the island from as far away as Venezuela and Australia to bolster electoral prospects of the candidates who have financed their trips. There is no voting by absentee ballot in Cyprus and charges have been made of “vote buying” by wealthy candidates.

The failure of any candidate to obtain more than 50 percent of the vote would reduce the field to two who obtained the most votes, facing each other in a runoff the following Sunday.

Diplomats estimate that voter interest in any search for a Cypriot compromise was minimal and that the United Nations, whose peacekeepers have been in Cyprus since 1964, no longer believes in trying to broker the island’s unity, given the intransigence of the two camps.

“What more can we do after 44 years here?” asked Michael Moller, chief of the U.N. mission in Cyprus. “The window of opportunity we have this year will not remain forever.”

According to opinion polls, few Greek or Turkish Cypriots believe that such a “window” exists after years of separate existence of the feuding communities or that the U.N. troops, now numbering only 1,200, serve any useful purpose.

In addition to Mr. Papadopoulos, 74, and Mr. Christofias, 62, another popular candidate is Ioannis Kasoulides, 59, a former foreign minister and candidate of the conservative Democratic Rally party. Now a member of the European Parliament, Mr. Kasoulides helped negotiate the entry of Cyprus into the European Union.

The Greek Cypriot press has described the election as a tight three-way race, with most favoring the president’s chances.

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