• Sunday, Nov 29, 2020
  • Last Update : 04:59 pm

Turkish Cypriots vote for leader amid east Mediterranean tensions

  • Published at 08:53 pm October 18th, 2020
Int'l--Turkish-Cypriots-vote-for-leader-amid-east-Mediterranean-tensions
Turkish Cypriot presidential candidate Mustafa Akinci casts his vote next to his wife Meral at a polling station during the Turkish Cypriot presidential elections in northern Nicosia, Cyprus October 18, 2020 Reuters

The presidential vote pits incumbent Mustafa Akinci, 72 -- who supports reunification with the majority Greek-speaking Republic of Cyprus in the south -- against the right-wing Turkish nationalist Ersin Tatar

Turkish-held northern Cyprus, a breakaway state recognised only by Ankara, was voting on Sunday for a new leader in a run-off election held amid heightened tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.

The presidential vote pits incumbent Mustafa Akinci, 72 -- who supports reunification with the majority Greek-speaking Republic of Cyprus in the south -- against the right-wing Turkish nationalist Ersin Tatar.

Tatar, 60, who advocates a two-state solution, now holds the title of prime minister in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). He has controversially received the open backing of Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Under Erdogan, Turkey has become an increasingly assertive regional power that is now engaged in a bitter dispute with EU states Greece and Cyprus over oil and gas reserves in eastern Mediterranean waters.

The European Union has deplored Turkey's move and warned Ankara against further "provocations," while multiple countries have staged military drills in the region in recent months.

One voter, Said Kenan, 76, said on Sunday's election was "very important for me and for the community and for the Turkish Cypriots," adding that he backed Akinci's hopes for a "federal solution" for the island divided since 1974.

On Sunday's second-round ballot was triggered after Tatar won 32% of the vote on October 11 ahead of Akinci, who garnered just under 30% in a field of 11 candidates.

But Akinci was seen to be in a stronger position now, having won the backing of Tufan Erhurman, a fellow Social Democrat, who came third last time around.

After voting, Akinci said he hoped people would remember the election as a day of "democracy and will", while his rival Tatar stressed the importance of maintaining a "good relationship with Turkey."

The polls come amid an economic crisis deepened by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has largely shuttered the tourism sector and led to the closure of Ercan airport in the north and crossing points to the south.

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