Cyprus: Political Stalemate

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Political turmoil was the outcome of elections in the Turkish northern part of Cyprus last month.

The general election produced a stalemate, with opposition and pro-government parties each ending up with 25 seats in the 50-seat parliament. The government of Rauf Denktash hopes to form a new administration or call further elections next month.

Denktash is a hardline nationalist who came to power after the Turkish army invaded Cyprus in 1974, resulting in the island being partitioned into a Greek-dominated south and Turkish-dominated north.

For decades he has been able to play on the fears of Turkish Cypriots that they would suffer a second class status if the island was reunified. But in recent years he has faced growing opposition to his corrupt and authoritarian rule. There were significant anti-government strikes and protests last year.

There is a growing feeling in both parts of Cyprus for a resolution to the conflict between the two groups, which took root when Britain used a policy of divide and rule to control Cyprus as a colony.

There have been major protests in the south of Cyprus against the war on Iraq, and against the continuing presence of large British army bases.

The border was partly reopened last year after pressure from Turkish and Greek Cypriots pushed their respective leaders into talks.

Denktash has been thrown back into relying on the support of the Turkish state's army and some of the Turkish immigrants who were brought into Cyprus to provide a bedrock for pro-Turkish nationalism.

The Turkish government is hoping to begin talks on joining the European Union next year. That means it is trying to get some kind of solution to the 'Cyprus problem'.

EU politicians publicly supported the pro-reunification Republican Turkish Party (CTP) in last month's elections. It emerged as the largest single party with 19 seats. It supports the peace deal brokered by the UN.

That certainly chimes with the hopes of most people on both sides of the border. But it does not answer the deep discontent at declining living standards and rule by corrupt politicians.

And there is greater questioning over whether membership of the EU will solve those problems - something that most people took for granted two years ago.

Whether the opposition to discredited politicians in Cyprus north and south breaks through will depend on how much it connects with discontent over economic as well as political issues, rather than simply emphasising links with European big business.