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Christofias wins Cyprus presidency

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Christofias wins, extends "hand of friendship" to Turkish Cypriots
  • NEW: Christofias says he looks forward to "substantial cooperation"
  • NEW: Christofias' win makes Cyprus an EU nation led by a communist president
  • Nicosia is Europe's last divided capital
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NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) -- Communist leader Dimitris Christofias has won Cyprus' crucial presidential runoff, pledging to restart moribund talks to reunify the island and immediately agreed to meet the leader of the breakaway Turkish Cypriots.

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Supporters of Communist President-elect Dimitris Christofias celebrate in Nicosia, Cyprus, on Sunday.

Jubilant supporters flooded the streets of Nicosia, Europe's last divided capital, waving Cypriot and Che Guevara flags, honking car horns and lighting flares.

"I extend a hand of friendship to the Turkish Cypriot people and their leadership," Christofias said, thanking Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat for telephoning to congratulate him. Christofias said he looked forward to "substantial cooperation for the benefit of both communities."

Christofias' win makes strategically important Cyprus a rarity among EU nations -- a country led by a president with firmly communist roots.

Christofias has close ties with the Turkish Cypriot left wing, relations that have raised hopes for quickly restarting long-stalled negotiations with the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state.

Reunification of the Greek Cypriot south and the Turkish Cypriot north would remove one of the obstacles to Turkey's efforts to join the European Union. It would also ease strong objections to Kosovo's new independence among Greek Cypriots who fear it would act as a precedent for north Cyprus.

"We will roll up our sleeves and work hard so that our island is reunified. Enough is enough, entrenching division is disastrous for our people and our island," Christofias told reporters after voting. "I also extend a message of friendship to ordinary Turkish Cypriots."

It was the promise of an end to the stalemate over the country's division that produced the surprise exit of hard-line incumbent Tassos Papadopoulos in a first-round vote last week.

Christofias and Kasoulides were running neck-and-neck until the last minute.

Both had accused Papadopoulos of regressive tactics edging Cyprus toward a permanent split with Turkish Cypriots, whose breakaway state is recognized only by Turkey. Papadopoulos was instrumental in urging Greek Cypriots to reject a 2004 U.N. reunification plan that Turkish Cypriots approved. A week later, the island joined the EU as a divided country.

Talat has said he is ready to resume talks with whoever wins the election.

Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines since 1974, when Turkey invaded in response to a failed coup to unite the island with Greece. The island has one of the world's longest-serving U.N. peacekeeping missions, after U.N. soldiers arrived in 1964.

While Papadopoulos may be out, he will not be entirely without power. Sunday's runoff result depended on attracting many of the nearly 32 percent of voters who cast their ballots for the president in the first round.

But this would not mean he could shackle the winner and prevent him from carrying out his policies. Power in Cyprus rests with the president, who is the head of the government and the state.

Nearly 516,000 voters -- including 390 Turkish Cypriots living in the south -- were eligible to vote. Turkish Cypriot voters in the northern breakaway state were not. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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