Monday, February 18, 2008

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Greek Cypriot voters yesterday rejected the no-compromise policies of President Tassos Papadopoulos, unexpectedly ousting the five-year leader in the first round of the presidential election.

The outcome reflected growing dissatisfaction with Mr. Papadopoulos, whose refusal to consider any form of compromise with the Turkish Cypriots or Turkey has prompted a gradual erosion of the country’s international standing.

Mr. Papadopoulos managed 31.79 percent of votes, running third behind a combined 66.80 percent for his two leading opponents. Nine candidates were contending to govern Cyprus, the third largest island in the Mediterranean.

A total of 516,441 voters in a population of 656,000 Greek Cypriots cast their ballots. The figure does not include the Turkish Cypriot population of 87,000, who do not participate in internationally recognized political life.

The blow was unexpected to the 74-year-old veteran of the struggle against British colonial rule, who campaigned on his record of opposition to compromise with Turkey and to the concept of a bi-zonal federation between the Mediterranean island’s communities.

Urged by Mr. Papadopoulos, the Greek Cypriots in 2004 rejected a U.N. plan to reunite the island. The Turkish Cypriot minority accepted the plan.

The second round of voting on Sunday will be played out between two remaining candidates: Demetris Christofias, 62, who heads the well-entrenched Greek Cypriot communist party AKEL (Progressive Party of the Working People), and his conservative opponent, former Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides, 59, one of the negotiators of the island’s accession to the European Union.

Mr. Kasoulides led yesterday’s voting with 33.51 percent of the ballots compared with 33.29 percent for Mr. Christofias.

Both accused Mr. Papadopoulos of antagonizing Cyprus’ partners in the European Union with crude and often aggressive diplomacy. Since its military intervention in Cyprus in 1974, Turkey has opposed the Greek Cypriot government’s claims to represent all of Cyprus.

While both remaining candidates agree on the need to revive the stalled dialogue with the Turkish Cypriot minority, neither specified what concessions he would make and both demanded the withdrawal of the 35,000 Turkish troops in northern Cyprus.

Mr. Christofias, who was educated in the Soviet Union, has vacillated on the Cypriot political chessboard. Until last year, his influential party, which incongruously includes rich landowners and merchants, was part of the governing coalition of Mr. Papadopoulos.

Local analysts said Mr. Christofias hopes for support from Mr. Papadopoulos’ center-right party. If he wins on Sunday, it would make Cyprus the first EU member to be led by a communist president.

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