Turkish Cypriots vote on Sunday in a leadership runoff

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Turkish Cypriots in the breakaway northern Cyprus voted in a tight presidential runoff that pits two different views of ties with the rest of the island, and that could influence a broader territorial dispute in the Mediterranean.

Career politician and current president Mustafa Akinci, 72, supports reuniting the island, which split after a 1974 Turkish invasion in response to a brief Greek-inspired coup.

Turkish-Cypriot President and candidate Mustafa Akinci addresses the crowd and media after reaching presidential runoff in the Turkish-administered northern part of the divided capital Nicosia, Cyprus. EPA-EFE/BILGE BEBEK

Only Ankara recognises Northern Cyprus as an independent state. Other countries consider it part of Cyprus. The latest United Nations-mediated peace negotiations failed in 2017 and there has been no progress in talks since.

Ersin Tatar, 60, the current prime minister who has also served as finance minister, has closer ties with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. Tatar supports separate sovereign administrations on the island, a plan that Turkey has recently said is the only solution.

Tatar won the first round of the election last week with 32.34%, ahead of Akinci who got 29.80%.

As well as having an impact on inter-island talks, the result of north Cyprus’ election may influence negotiations over the contested maritime claims in the eastern Mediterranean, which has Turkey at odds with Greece and Cyprus.

Turkish-Cypriot Prime Minister and candidate Ersin Tatar casts his ballot at a polling station during the Northern Cyprus presidential elections, in the Turkish-administered northern part of the divided capital Nicosia, Cyprus. EPA-EFE/BILGE BEBEK

Voting was scheduled to end at 1500 GMT, official media said. Footage showed voters wearing masks and gloves as part of measures against the novel coronavirus. With a population of some 326,000, northern Cyprus has reported 836 infections and five deaths as of Saturday.

Earlier this month, Tatar, speaking alongside Turkey’s Erdogan said northern Cyprus was reopening part of the beachfront of a resort abandoned for 46 years in a move that could hurt efforts to revive dispute settlement talks.

The president of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, called the move “illegal”. 

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