The leader of Turkey's new ruling party said his country should reconsider its long-standing hard-line policy on Cyprus and accused the Turkish Cypriot leader of ignoring public calls to reunite the divided island.
The remarks by Recep Tayyip Erdogan represent a shift for Turkish politicians, who have rarely dissented from Turkey's support for Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf R. Denktash.
"I'm not in favor of the continuation of the policy that has been maintained in Cyprus over the past 30 to 40 years," Erdogan told a local TV station late Wednesday, the Anatolian news agency reported.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Turkey maintains thousands of troops there and is the only country to recognize Denktash's breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
Denktash is facing criticism from an increasing number of Turkish Cypriots, who accuse him of blocking an agreement with Greek Cypriots.
He is under pressure to find a solution before Feb. 28 -- a date set in a United Nations-drafted plan to resolve the problem.
The European Union has invited Cyprus to join in 2004, regardless whether the island is reunited.
Turkey is eager to join the bloc, and EU leaders say a solution is likely to help Turkey's chances.
About 30,000 demonstrators demanded Denktash's resignation last week in the largest pro-EU rally in northern Cyprus. Erdogan said the rally was a warning.
"You can't push aside the views of the public," he said. "A decision should be taken with the largest public participation and should be implemented."
Meanwhile on Thursday, Turkey's parliament approved measures aimed at improving its chances of joining the EU. The new laws will make it harder for convicted torturers to avoid prison terms, make it more difficult for courts to ban political parties, and ensure that journalists are not required to disclose their sources to authorities.