The European Union Monday welcomed Mehmet Ali Talat's win in Turkish Cypriot elections, saying it should speed the resumption of talks on reunifying the island which joined the EU last year despite a 31-year division.
Turkish Cypriots celebrate Talat's election victory
The European Commission also said the poll result should allow the "rapid" unblocking of EU aid and preferential trade terms for the northern part of Cyprus.
Talat's success "confirms the strong desire of the Turkish Cypriot community for reunification and full integration into the EU," said the EU's executive arm in a statement. "The commission expects that this result will create favorable conditions for a resumption of talks under the aegis of the UN in view of a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus issue."
Sunday's election was a clear victory for the 52-year-old Social Democrat Talat, who will be the first leader in the self-declared Turkish Cypriot state in the north of the island who is genuinely committed to reunification with the Greek Cypriots. He used his pro-European stance as an election campaign platform.
Mehmet Ali Talat takes over as Turkish Cypriot leader
"I once again wish to extend the hand of reconciliation and I will keep it extended until it is grasped," he said. "We are absolutely certain that this hand will be taken and that peace will return to Cyprus. We believe firmly in that."
Last year, ahead of the expansion of the European Union to include Cyprus, Turkish Cypriot voters gave a two-thirds vote in a referendum in favor of reunification. But the plan was thwarted by the Greeks, who overwhelmingly rejected it. It was a major blow to the Turks, but Talat's election is evidence that they have not given up hope.
Border in Nicosia
If Cyprus were reunified, the desperately poor Turkish side would automatically become part of the European Union, which is one reason why the idea of new negotiations with the Greek side is so attractive.
Since the border between the two sides was opened two years ago Turkish Cypriots have had the chance to cross to the other side to work, and have seen the prosperity which is lacking in the north of the island.
But when they come home in the evenings, it is to a state which is recognized by no-one but Turkey. No ships dock there and no tourists land at the airport. Talat has called on the EU to change that and to push for new talks.
Turkish Cypriot poster reading "yes" to reunification
"Half this island is not subject to EU laws, but this half has voted for Europe," he said. "The European Union should bear that in mind. The EU should support us and push for a solution to the problem."
Appeal for help
The major sticking point is Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos, who bitterly opposes a UN plan for a united federal Cyprus. Although analysts suggest he is holding out in the hope of forcing more Turkish concessions as planned talks between Ankara and the EU draw nearer, Talat's clear majority victory could put pressure on Papadopoulos.
The new president has also appealed for a lifting of the UN-backed sanctions on the north, and has urged United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan to encourage the Greek Cypriots back to the negotiating table.
Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos
Speaking after the ballot, he said the result was a clear reflection of Turkish Cypriot's desire for peace following three decades of ethnic division.
"They want to reunify Cyprus and they declared this very clearly to the international community," he said.