Cyprus president extends lead in pre-election poll

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NICOSIA, Oct 28 (Reuters) Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos has extended his lead over two key challengers ahead of presidential elections next February, a poll published today showed.

Papadopoulos, seeking a second five-year term, leads the field with 33.2 per cent, a three percentage point rise from a September opinion poll, the Gnora/RAI survey conducted for the daily Phileleftheros said.

He was followed by communist candidate Demetris Christofias with 28.7 per cent and independent Ioannis Cassoulides with 25.8 percent.

Presidential elections are due on February. 17 2008. If no candidate gets a clear majority in the first round there will be a runoff a week later.

Opinion polls have consistently put Papadopoulos in the lead, but all point to the necessity of a coalition with one of the other two candidates to form a majority government.

Christofias, head of the AKEL communist party which brought Papadopoulos to power in 2003, quit the governing coalition this year.

Papadopoulos, 73, led the Greek Cypriot community into rejecting a United Nations reunification plan for ethnically divided Cyprus in a referendum in 2004. Turkey invaded northern Cyprus in 1974 after a brief Greek-inspired coup and supports a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state there.

Turkish Cypriots voted in favour of the UN plan.

Papadopoulos's detractors say he is not trying hard enough to resolve the Cyprus deadlock, which is harming Turkey's attempts to join the European Union. Supporters say he has undertaken initiatives to end the logjam but the Turkish Cypriots have blocked them.

REUTERS SS RK1655

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