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Cyprus president: Restart stalled peace talks immediately

Associated Press logo Associated Press 1/04/2017 By MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS, Associated Press

NICOSIA, Cyprus — The president of Cyprus on Saturday called for an immediate resumption of stalled reunification talks to tackle key items that have foiled numerous attempts to unify the ethnically divided Mediterranean island.

As the standstill in talks stretched into its second month, the country's rival leaders are looking to a U.N.-hosted dinner on Sunday as a potential ice-breaker to put the negotiations back on track.

"What must be decided tomorrow, if we all have the same goal, is to resume talks immediately by putting down realistic proposals serving the interests of the people of Cyprus, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, and not the interests of whichever other third country," said Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.

His remark was aimed at Turkey, which wants to keep troops and military intervention rights on Cyprus as part of any peace accord reunifying the island as a federation.

Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup mounted by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence in the breakaway north and keeps more than 35,000 troops there.

Sunday's dinner at a U.N. barracks in Nicosia will be the first face-to-face meeting between Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci since Feb. 16, when talks broke down after 21 months of progress.

Prompting the halt was Turkish Cypriot protests over a bill making the commemoration of a 1950 referendum in support of union with Greece mandatory in Greek Cypriot schools. The referendum preceded a four-year guerrilla campaign by the majority Greek Cypriots against British colonial rule before the island gained independence in 1960.

Akinci, who insisted that the Greek Cypriot bid for union was the "root cause" of the island's problems, said talks could begin only if the legislation is repealed.

Anastasiades said the legislation did not signal a Greek Cypriot deviation from a deal for a federated Cyprus. He said Akinci used the bill as an excuse to walk out of talks amid a hardening of the Turkish Cypriot stance ahead of Turkey's April 16 referendum on expanding the president's powers.

Akinci said talks could resume after April 7, but the leaders at the dinner should outline a talks "road map" with the U.N. taking a more enhanced role. He added that once talks resume, the next two months would be key to a deal.

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