Turkish Leaders, Turkish Cypriots Mourn Former Leader Denktash

Posted January 17th, 2012 at 9:20 am (UTC-5)
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Turkish leaders have joined thousands of residents in northern Cyprus to bid farewell to Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, who died Friday after a long illness.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan were among mourners filing past Denktash's coffin Tuesday at the presidential palace on the Turkish Cypriot side of the divided city of Nicosia. After prayers at the Selimiye Mosque, Denktash was to be buried in the Turkish Cypriot part of the island's capital.

Denktash, who had experienced deteriorating health for some time, was admitted to a hospital in northern Cyprus on January 8. He died on January 13 at the age of 87 of multiple organ failure.

He was a staunch, lifelong advocate for a separate Turkish Cypriot state on the Mediterranean island, which has been split since 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup attempt by supporters of a union with Greece.

Denktash founded the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in 1983 and remained at its helm until 2005. The self-proclaimed independent state is recognized only by Ankara.

Denktash's memorial service comes just days ahead of a summit in New York that could decide the future of peace talks on the divided island. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is to meet with Cyprus President Demetris Christofias and Denktash's successor, Dervis Eroglu.

All talks on reunification have failed. The conflict over reunification has hampered Turkey's bid to join the European Union.