Cyprus party refuses to back candidate in presidential race

Cypriot Presidential candidate and leader of the center-right DIKO party Nicolas Papadopoulos escorted by his family votes in presidential elections in capital Nicosia, on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018. Cypriots are voting for a new president they hope will overcome years of failure to resolve the island-nation's ethnic division and deliver more benefits from an economy on the rebound after a severe financial crisis. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Leaders of a major Cyprus political party decided Tuesday that they won't support either the incumbent or his left-wing challenger in the runoff of the country's presidential election.

The executive bureau of center-right DIKO said that endorsing either President Nicos Anastasiades or independent Stavros Malas would be a reversal of the party's stance on reunification talks with the divided nation's breakaway Turkish Cypriots.

The party's candidate in the election's first round on Sunday advocated a tougher line in the peace talks, saying Anastasiades and Malas would concede too much to the Turkish side.

The bureau says backing either runoff contender would diminish DIKO's credibility and be "disrespectful" to voters who cast ballots for party leader Nicholas Papadopoulos. He received more than one-quarter of the vote.

DIKO's central committee is expected to ratify the bureau's decision, which throws an element of uncertainty into the Feb. 4 runoff.

Anastasiades and Malas — who garnered 35.5 and 30.2 of the vote respectively — hoped to secure DIKO's support, as well as win over voters from a coalition of smaller parties that backed Papadopoulos' candidacy.

Cyprus was split into Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of uniting with Greece. Turkey still has more than 35,000 troops stationed in the breakaway north.

U.N.-mediated talks to reunify the island nation collapsed in July over what Anastasiades said was Turkey's insistence on maintain a troop presence and the right to intervene military on behalf of Turkish Cypriots.

Malas, who's running as an independent but is supported by the communist AKEL party, said he would resume the talks where they left off .

Anastasiades has pledged to work on restarting the negotiations, but said he knows "the limits" of what Greek Cypriots would accept.

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