Prime Minister and President of Northern Cyprus participate in second round of elections

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Turkish Cypriot leadership candidate Mustafa Akinci speaks to media after voting at a primary school in northern Nicosia

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish Cypriots in the separatist side of northern Cyprus voted in a close second round that pits two different views on ties with the rest of the island, and which could sway a territorial dispute wider in the Mediterranean.

Career politician and current president Mustafa Akinci, 72, supports the reunification of the island, which split after a 1974 Turkish invasion in response to a brief Greek-inspired coup.

Only Ankara recognizes northern Cyprus as an independent state. Other countries consider it to be part of Cyprus. The last peace negotiations brokered by the United Nations collapsed in 2017 and no progress has been made since.

Ersin Tatar, 60, the current prime minister who also served as finance minister, has closer ties to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. Tatar supports separate sovereign administrations on the island, a plan Turkey recently said was the only solution.

Tatar won the first round of the election last week with 32.34%, ahead of Akinci who obtained 29.80%.

In addition to having an impact on inter-island negotiations, the outcome of the election of Northern Cyprus may influence negotiations over disputed maritime claims in the eastern Mediterranean, which puts Turkey in conflict with the Greece and Cyprus.

Voting was due to end at 3:00 p.m. GMT, state media reported. Images showed voters wearing masks and gloves as part of measures against the novel coronavirus. With a population of around 326,000, northern Cyprus reported 836 infections and five deaths on Saturday.

Earlier this month, Tatar, speaking alongside Turkish Erdogan, said northern Cyprus was reopening part of the waterfront of a 46-year-old resort town, which could hamper efforts to relaunch dispute settlement negotiations.

The President of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, called the decision “illegal”.

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