Updated: 02/22/2013 22:12 | By Agence France-Presse

Turkey hopes new Cyprus president won't be 'a joke'

Turkey voiced hope that a presidential runoff in Cyprus Sunday would yield a "serious counterpart" for Ankara and pave the way for a peace deal between the island's Greek government in the south and its northern occupiers.

"I believe Christofias was a big joke," European Union Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis said in an interview to AFP this week, referring to President Demetris Christofias whose term runs out at the end of this month.

"I am hoping that the new president and the new leadership in Cyprus will not be an additional joke but a serious counterpart for Turkish Cypriots, Greece and Turkey to deal with," he said.

He also blamed Cyprus' ongoing economic woes on the outgoing president.

"Economic crisis is the result of their stubborn attitude," Bagis said.

Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkish troops invaded the northern third of the island in response to a Greek-inspired coup in Nicosia aimed at uniting the island with Greece.

Turkey only recognises the breakaway state in the north and not the government of the Republic of Cyprus, which became an EU member in 2004.

Greek Cypriots will head to the polls Sunday for a presidential runoff after right-wing leader Nicos Anastasiades, the favourite in the first round, fell short of clinching an outright victory on February 17.

The winner will face the tough task of securing a bailout agreement and clinching an elusive settlement with Turkey on the island's north.

The United Nations has held several rounds of talks between the two sides in a bid to reunite the island but sticking points remain.

Bagis said his government would back any peace plan based on political equality between the northern and southern sectors of the island.

"I assure you any peace plan that is accepted by both sides -- the southern Cypriots and the northern Cypriots -- will be blessed and supported by my government as long as it is based on political equality," he said.

"That's the only precondition we have because we don't want to end up sending our troops back to the island once we withdraw them and the only way to ensure that there will be no need for military presence is political equality and it is up to the Turkish and Greek Cypriots to make that deal."

About 35,000 Turkish troops are stationed in the northern 37 percent of the island.

The minister lamented that the Greek Cypriots voted down a UN blueprint named after then Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2004, which required gradual withdrawal of foreign troops from the island.

"Had the Annan plan been accepted, not only would there be no more Turkish or Greek troops left on the island but that United States of Cyprus would probably be one of the most prosperous countries of the EU right now," he said.

"But by rejecting the Annan plan, unfortunately they created an environment where they had to declare their bankruptcy during their presidency of the EU."

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