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Cyprus rejoices as unifier Akinci wins in Turkish north

Turkish Cypriots have elected Mustafa Akinci leader of their internationally shunned republic. He has pledged to focus his energy on breaking decades of stalemate and achieving an accord that would reunify Cyprus.

Mustafa Akinci received 60.5 percent of the vote to lead Turkish Cyprus. The challenger, who had previously served 14 years as mayor of the Turkish half of the island's divided capital, Nicosia, beat the five-year incumbent, Dervis Eroglu, in a runoff poll that could accelerate UN-backed efforts to reunify Cyprus, a British colony until 1960. About 64 percent the 177,000 registered voters turned out.

"We achieved change and my policy will be focused on reaching a peace settlement," Akinci told supporters at a victory rally on Sunday. "This country cannot tolerate any more wasted time."

A moderate who supports a federated solution, Akincis is expected to help resume reunification talks next month. He rode discontent with five years of rule by the right-wing Eroglu, whose own efforts at talks failed in 2014.

'A tremendous burden'

As mayor of Turkish Nicosia from the late 1970s to early 1990s, Akinci collaborated with his Greek Cypriot counterpart on an architectural plan for the capital's future reunification, earning accolades. Since that time, he has held several government posts and led and helped found centrist political parties. After winning, Akinci said he had agreed to meet with Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades soon.

"Anastasiades and I are the same generation," Akinci told his supporters on Sunday, adding that voters had answered critics who accused him of selling out to Greek Cypriots. "If we can't solve this now, it will be a tremendous burden on future generations."

Only Turkey, which maintains more than 30,000 troops in north Cyprus, recognizes the region's 1983 declaration of independence, preceded in 1974 by Turkey's invasion of the island following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only the internationally recognized south of Cyprus benefits from the country's joining the European Union in 2004. In 2013, rumors floated that Cyprus could lose the euro as the country's official currency, and just in February the Anastasiades administration signed a port deal with Russia to shore up finances.

On Sunday, UN envoy Espen Barth Eide congratulated Akinci on his win and "welcomed his commitment to resuming negotiations as soon as possible," the United Nations announced in a statement. Eide will return to the island early next month to prepare for the resumption of talks, which Anastasiades had put on hold following a pre-election clash over rights to the island's offshore natural gas reserves.

Sibel Siber, the first female prime minister of north Cyprus, lost in the first round of the election, but her Republican Turkish Party threw its support behind Akinci, helping seal Sunday's historic victory.

mkg/gsw (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

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