Communist First to Lead EU Member; Increased Relations with Moscow Feared

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 25, 2008 | Go to article overview

Communist First to Lead EU Member; Increased Relations with Moscow Feared


Byline: Andrew Borowiec, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

NICOSIA, Cyprus - Demetris Christofias, the Soviet-educated leader of the communist AKEL party, swept to victory yesterday in the second round of Greek-Cypriot presidential elections and will become the first communist head of state in the 27-nation European Union.

Supporters poured into the streets carrying Cypriot flags and pictures of the iconic Cuban communist hero Che Guevera after hearing that Mr. Christofias had received 53.5 percent of the vote in the two-man contest against his conservative opponent, former Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides.

Commentators immediately speculated that the divided Mediterranean island will forge closer links to Moscow and focus less on European solidarity.

Mr. Chrislofias acted immediately on a campaign promise - also made by his opponent - to seek better relations with the breakaway Turkish community that occupies the northern part of the island.

A spokesman for Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat said the two had already spoken by telephone and agreed to meet "at the earliest possible date" to revive reunification efforts, Reuters news agency reported.

The incoming president's Progressive Party of the Working People, which uses the Greek acronym AKEL, opposed a United Nations-sponsored plan for reunification when it was put to Greek Cypriots in a failed referendum in 2004.

But Mr. Christofias supported the proposed federation during his campaign and said he had maintained contacts with the Turkish-Cypriot leadership since the referendum.

He denied yesterday that his policies would harm relations with the European Union or with the international business community, particularly with offshore foreign companies based in Cyprus and working in the Middle East.

His conservative opponents stressed his volatile political record, including support, until last year, for President Tassos Papadopoulos, who was eliminated in the election's first round a week ago.

AKEL is a conundrum to Western analysts and diplomats. The largest political party in Cyprus, it has no specific economic or political program. Yet much of its leadership, including Mr. Christofias, has benefited from scholarships in Russia, lavished on Cyprus when the former Soviet Union attempted to destabilize the strategic island after its independence from Britain in 1960. …

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