Cyprus eagerly awaits landmark Merkel visit

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Cyprus said on Friday that German Chancellor Angela Merkel's landmark visit next week will help boost faltering UN-backed efforts to reunify the Mediterranean island after decades of division.

Merkel is scheduled to pay a five-hour "working visit" to Nicosia, the world's last divided capital following the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, on Tuesday in the first ever by a German head of government.

President Demetris Christofias, the Greek Cypriot leader, and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Dervis Eroglu are to resume peace talks on Wednesday after a long break.

"Naturally, Germany is in favour of the reunification of Cyprus. It is the first visit of a German chancellor, which carries great weight and is of huge importance," Christofias told reporters.

He said Merkel's visit was on a par with the historic visits of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Pope Benedict XVI who arrived in Cyprus to much fanfare last year.

"Such visits are of great significance as they give important support in efforts to reach a settlement based on a bizonal, bicommunal, federal solution," the president said.

Christofias said Merkel would be warmly welcomed with "feelings of gratitude" towards a "major player in world affairs."

The latest peace process was launched amid renewed international optimism in September 2008. But with no signs of tangible progress, UN chief Ban Ki-moon has stepped in to try to add impetus.

The trio are expected to meet again in Switzerland in late January after a review last November in New York of the sluggish peace process.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded and seized its northern third in response to an Athens-engineered coup in Nicosia to unite the island with Greece.

© 2011 AFP

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