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Communist-Backed Businessman Elected President Of Cyprus

February 22, 1988

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) _ George Vassiliou, a Communist-backed millionaire businessman, was formally proclaimed president today and vowed to be flexible in seeking reunification of this war-divided island.

In his first foray into politics, the 56-year-old Vassiliou narrowly defeated veteran conservative leader Glafcos Clerides in Sunday’s runoff.

It was Cyprus’ closest election since independence from Britain in 1960.

Vassiliou is committed to peace talks with the Turkish Cypriots in the northern, Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus.

He told thousands of jubilant and cheering supporters on Sunday night that he would ″launch an unprecedented effort to promote a settlement.″

Vassiliou has promised to abandon the inflexible approach of President Spyros Kyprianou, who insisted on the withdrawal of 30,000 Turkish troops and 65,000 mainland settlers from the north as a precondition to resumed peace talks. Kyprianou had sought a third five-year term, but was knocked out in the election’s first round on Feb. 14. He endorsed neither Vassiliou nor Clerides.

In an acceptance speech broadcast by the state radio, Vassiliou said he also will work for the withdrawal of the Turkish troops and settlers and for the right of the 180,000 Greek Cypriot refugees to return to their homes in the north. Turkey invaded the island in 1974 following a short-lived coup by Greek Cypriot extremists favoring union with Greece.

Rauf Denktash, president of the Turkish Cypriot breakaway state established in 1983, has offered to meet the new president in preliminary talks to break a 3-year-old deadlock in United Nations-sponsored peace talks.

Vassiliou, who ran as an independent with the support of the powerful Communist Party, defeated Clerides on Sunday with 51.63 percent of the vote. He won 167,834 votes to 157,228 or 48.37 percent for the 68-year-old Clerides, said Kyriacos Christofi, chief election official.

Christofi formally proclaimed Vassiliou president early today in a speech from the first-story balcony of the eight-story building that houses Vassiliou’s market research company, the largest in the Middle East.

The new president ordered cameramen of the state-run television not to film leftists waving red flags in the crowd of 5,000 supporters gathered to cheer the proclamation.

A pre-dawn victory rally in the capital’s main square was called off after minor scuffles between Vassiliou supporters and backers of Clerides.

Vassiliou repeatedly appealed for calm during his broadcast speech and in earlier statements, declaring that he saw his election as a victory for Cyprus.

″There is no victor or vanquished. We should all work for the good of Cyprus,″ he said, stressing the need for national unity.

Voting was compulsory for all Greek Cypriots over 21. More than 90 percent of the 363,000 registered voters cast valid ballots.

Reunification was the main issue of the campaign, with both Vassiliou and Clerides stressing the urgency of breaking a peace talks deadlock to avoid the risk of international recognition for the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state.

The proclamation of a statelet by the 150,000 Turkish Cypriots was branded invalid by the U.N. Security Council and has only been recognized by Turkey.

The Turkish Cypriots took no part in the election.

The new president will be sworn in next Sunday.