Cyprus’ leaders launch intensified talks

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NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Rival leaders on the divided island of Cyprus launched a round of intensified talks Monday aimed at paving the way for a peace deal this year.

President Dimitris Christofias, a Greek Cypriot, and breakaway Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat started six daylong sessions, hoping to overcome obstacles that hindered progress during 60 meetings over the past 16 months.

The talks will be held Jan. 11-13 and Jan. 25-27.

Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. The island joined the European Union in 2004, but only Greek Cypriots enjoy the benefits.

Real progress would restore the talks’ credibility and rekindle hope among jaded Cypriots that their leaders can tackle a decades-old dispute that is hindering Turkey’s EU membership bid and harming EU-NATO cooperation.

Talks are focusing on power-sharing under a future federal structure, the economy and EU matters. But they appeared to be on shaky ground even before they started.

New Turkish Cypriot proposals leaked last week that include separate rights to sign international agreements and control of the Mediterranean island’s air space.

Government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou on Sunday called the proposals “unacceptable” and warned they could not constitute the basis for negotiations.

Other key sticking points remain sensitive arrangements on property lost during the 1974 war and granting military intervention rights to Turkey.