Incumbent Out in Cypriot Vote Surprise

NICOSIA, Cyprus -- President Tassos Papadopoulos was eliminated in the first round of Cyprus' presidential election, a surprise result signaling the start of a renewed drive to end the island's decades-old division.

The cliffhanger election saw three candidates neck-and-neck until the very last minute, the first time in Cyprus that a poll has been so closely contested by three candidates.

Communist Party leader Demetris Christofias, 61, and 59-year-old former Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides of the right-wing DISY party will now vie for the five-year presidency in a Feb. 24 runoff.

Both are seen as moderate and have said they want speedy negotiations with Turkish Cypriots, who have been split from the Greek Cypriot south since 1974 when a failed bid to unite the island with Greece triggered a Turkish invasion. The island's division has proven a major obstacle to Turkey's efforts to join the European Union.

Despite coming from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, Kasoulides and Christofias both stressed the need for a "diplomatic offensive" to stave off the threat of permanent partition. Talks to reunite the island have been deadlocked for years.

Final results from Sunday's vote showed Kasoulides slightly ahead with 33.51 percent of the vote, compared with 33.29 percent for Christofias. Papadopoulos was close behind with 31.79 percent.