Turkish Cypriots vote for leader amid Med tensions | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 19, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:31 AM, October 19, 2020

Turkish Cypriots vote for leader amid Med tensions

Turkish-held northern Cyprus, a breakaway state recognised only by Ankara, was voting yesterday for a new leader in a run-off election held amid heightened tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.

The presidential vote pits incumbent Mustafa Akinci, 72 -- who supports reunification with the majority Greek-speaking Republic of Cyprus in the south -- against the right-wing Turkish nationalist Ersin Tatar.

Tatar, 60, who advocates a two-state solution, now holds the title of prime minister in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). He has controversially received the open backing of Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Under Erdogan, Turkey has become an increasingly assertive regional power that is now engaged in a bitter dispute with EU states Greece and Cyprus over oil and gas reserves in eastern Mediterranean waters.

The European Union has deplored Turkey's move and warned Ankara against further "provocations", while multiple countries have staged military drills in the region in recent months.

One voter, Said Kenan, 76, said yesterday's election was "very important for me and for the community and for the Turkish Cypriots," adding that he backed Akinci's hopes for a "federal solution" for the island divided since 1974.

Yesterday's second-round ballot was triggered after Tatar won 32 percent of the vote on October 11 ahead of Akinci, who garnered just under 30 percent in a field of 11 candidates.

But Akinci was seen to be in a stronger position now, having won the backing of Tufan Erhurman, a fellow Social Democrat, who came third last time around.

After voting, Akinci said he hoped people would remember the election as a day of "democracy and will", while his rival Tatar stressed the importance of maintaining a "good relationship with Turkey."

The 738 polling stations were due to close at 6:00 pm (1500 GMT). At 1:00 pm, turnout was 30 percent.

The polls come amid an economic crisis deepened by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has largely shuttered the tourism sector and led to the closure of Ercan airport in the north and crossing points to the south.

The TRNC, now with a population of about 300,000, was established after the north was occupied by Turkey in 1974 in reaction to a coup that aimed to annex Cyprus to Greece.

Earlier in October, Turkish troops angered the Republic of Cyrus by reopening public access to the fenced-off seaside ghost town of Varosha for the first time since Turkish forces invaded the north.

That move drew EU and UN criticism and sparked demonstrations in the Republic of Cyprus, which exercises its authority over the island's southern two-thirds, separated from the north by a UN-patrolled buffer zone.

On the eve of the vote, Greek-Cypriot protesters again massed, at a checkpoint along the so-called "Green Line", holding signs that read "Cyprus is Greek" and demanding the return of northern territories.

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