Turkey says Cyprus crisis is chance to end division

VILNIUS Wed Apr 3, 2013 12:08pm EDT

Turkey's President Abdullah Gul smiles during a visit to the Swedish parliament in Stockholm March 11, 2013, in this picture provided by Scanpix. REUTERS/Henrik Montgomery/Scanpix

Turkey's President Abdullah Gul smiles during a visit to the Swedish parliament in Stockholm March 11, 2013, in this picture provided by Scanpix.

Credit: Reuters/Henrik Montgomery/Scanpix

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VILNIUS (Reuters) - Turkish President Abdullah Gul said on Wednesday the financial crisis in Cyprus presented an "important opportunity" to end the division of the island, split between the Greek Cypriot south and Turkish north.

The Mediterranean island concluded a 10 billion euro ($13 billion) bailout deal with the euro zone and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Tuesday in order to stave off bankruptcy.

It has been divided since a Greek Cypriot coup was followed by a Turkish invasion of the north in 1974. Efforts to reunite it have repeatedly failed and Turkey is the only nation to recognize the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

"There is at the moment significant economic crisis on the island. This should be seen as important opportunity ... Because if the island was to unite, there would be a greater economic potential," Gul said during an official visit to Lithuania.

"There are some restrictions, embargoes on the island. Our suggestion is to lift any and all kinds of restriction or embargo simultaneously so that we can create a new climate for moving forward," he said.

"I hope that this message will be well understood."

Turkey's failure to extend a customs agreement with the European Union by opening its ports to goods from Cyprus has hindered its ambitions to join the EU.

Turkey began EU entry talks in 2005, a year after Cyprus was admitted, but its bid has been blocked by the intractable dispute over the island, as well as by long-standing opposition from core EU members Germany and France.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel highlighted the Cyprus dispute as a stumbling block when she visited Turkey in February.

Relations between Greece and Turkey have thawed over the years, making a resolution more imaginable than in the past.

Beset by economic crisis at home, Greece last month pledged to double annual trade with its eastern neighbor to $10 billion by 2015.

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras met his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul and signed deals on issues ranging from agriculture to disaster relief.

Gul said the potential for cooperation between Turkey and Greece made the possible benefits of Cypriot reunification even greater.

(Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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