PM Tatar wins North Cyprus presidential vote, says people want own state

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Ersin Tatar, prime minister of the breakaway state of North Cyprus, won a presidential election runoff on Sunday with almost 52% of votes, in a result which could further strain ties with the Cypriot government.

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Tatar is a supporter of separate administrations on the Mediterranean island which split after a 1974 Turkish invasion in response to a brief Greek-inspired coup.

Incumbent president Mustafa Akinci, 72, whose relations with Ankara had been strained, had been a supporter of reunification.

As well as having an impact on inter-island talks, the election result may also affect negotiations over the contested maritime claims in the eastern Mediterranean, which has Turkey at odds with Greece and Cyprus.

Turkey, which is the only country to recognise North Cyprus as an independent state, said recently that separate administrations were the only solution after United Nations-mediated peace negotiations between Cyprus and North Cyprus broke down in 2017.

In his victory speech, Tatar thanked Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, with whom he has strong relations.

“They will never tear the ties between us and Turkey,” he said.

“In light of the approval we received, it is the preference of our people in all disputes to lay claim to our own state, to lay claim to our land and lay claim to the guarantorship of Turkey,” Tatar added.

“Yes, we are open to an agreement with Cyprus but the Turkish Cypriot people will accept the terms of this agreement with a free will.”

Footage showed voters wearing masks and gloves as part of measures against the novel coronavirus as they cast their ballots. With a population of some 326,000, northern Cyprus has reported 852 infections and five deaths as of Sunday, according to official media.

Erdogan congratulated Tatar in a tweet and said Turkey would make every effort to protect the rights of Turkish Cypriots.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in a tweet: “We will protect the legitimate rights and interests of (the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus) in the eastern Mediterranean all together.”

Earlier this month, Tatar, speaking alongside Erdogan, said northern Cyprus was reopening part of the beachfront of a resort abandoned for 46 years, in a move seen as potentially damaging to efforts to revive dispute settlement talks. The president of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, said the reopening was illegal.

Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Alexandra Hudson