Cyprus votes in tight three-way presidential race

Other News Materials 17 February 2008 04:52 (UTC +04:00)

( Reuters ) - Greek Cypriots vote on Sunday in a tight three-way election for a new president who will be tasked with finding a peace deal on the divided island that could open Turkey's path towards the European Union.

Tassos Papadopoulos and challengers Demetris Christofias and Ioannis Kassoulides are almost tied in opinion polls, making a February 24 runoff a certainty.

Polls open at midnight EST and close at 10 a.m. EST for some 516,000 voters, including up to 22,000 Cypriots flown in from Greece and Britain.

Final results are expected by 11:30 a.m. EST. Nine candidates are standing.

The winner will be mandated to seek a peace deal to reunite Cyprus's ethnic Greeks and Turks, who have been split since a Turkish invasion in 1974 sparked by a brief Greek-inspired coup.

Greek Cypriots representing Cyprus in the EU say they will not let Turkey join the bloc unless there is a peace deal on the island. Ankara's entry talks were partially frozen in 2006.

His challengers say Papadopoulos's poor negotiating tactics have pushed the island to the verge of partition.

Papadopoulos led Greek Cypriot rejection of a United Nations peace blueprint in 2004 and says he will not make "concessions" or accept a settlement failing to meet basic concerns.

Communist Christofias and the right-wing backed independent Kassoulides pledge to forge closer ties with Turkish Cypriots. Diplomats hoping to launch a new peace bid this year are watching the race closely.

"If Papadopoulos is re-elected I am not optimistic about the prospects for a solution," said Ahmet Sozen of the East Mediterranean University. "A win for Kassoulides or Christofias will mean a quick start to negotiations."

North Cyprus is recognized only by Ankara which props it up with 30,000 troops.