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Hardliners ahead in Turkish Cypriot vote

Turkish Cypriot hardliners are poised to sweep to a decisive election victory in northern Cyprus that could hinder peace talks with Greek Cypriots and thwart Turkey's EU membership ambitions.

A Turkish military officer use his mobile as he passes in front of campaign posters in the Turkish occupied area at northern divided capital Nicosia

A strong showing by nationalists may complicate fragile reunification talks

Map showing Cyprus, with shaded northern territory

Elections are expected to affect reconciliation talks of the divided island

With more than half the votes counted, the right wing National Unity Party (UBP) had 44.19 percent of the vote, according to provisional results released by the Turkish Cypriot administration on Sunday, April 19.

The UBP advocates an outright two-state settlement on Cyprus, at odds with the federal model now being discussed by Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat and Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias.

Talat's allies, the center-left Republican Turkish Party (CTP), were in second place with 29.5 percent of the vote.

Officials expected a turnout of more than 70 percent of the 161,000 people eligible to vote in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is only recognized by Ankara.

The Turkish press said that up to 100,000 voters are settlers from the Turkish mainland with TRNC papers.

A setback for reunification?

Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat shaking hands.

Talat and Christofias are both seen as "progressive" in efforts to reunite the island

In the run-up to the vote, campaigning focused on the economy and reunification talks, with voters growing skeptical of President Talat's policy of reconciliation with Greek Cypriots.

Whatever the outcome of the election, Talat will remain the chief negotiator for the Turkish Cypriots in the talks with Cyprus President Demetris Christofias, but a strong showing by nationalists is likely to weaken his bargaining position.

The basis of the current talks is reuniting the island as a bizonal federation. The UBP, however, says it wants a rethink of the process.

"We will continue to support negotiations," said UBP leader Dervis Eroglu. "No one should say we are against them. We will put forward our views and discuss them within the framework of Turkey's foreign policy on Cyprus."

In an earlier interview with Turkey's Zaman newspaper, Eroglu was quoted as saying: "Everything will be easier if it is universally accepted that we (Turkish Cypriots) are a nation and that we have a state."

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded and seized the northern territory in response to a Greek Cypriot coup attempting to unite the island with Athens.

The last attempt at a negotiated solution to the Cypriot problem collapsed five years ago when Turkish Cypriots voted in favor of a UN settlement plan which was then rejected by Greek Cypriot voters.

A United Nations buffer zone currently separates the two communities.

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