Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960. Three years later, inter-communal violence broke out between the Mediterranean island's Greek and Turkish communities, which eventually led to a Greek-sponsored attempt to seize power in 1974 and a military intervention by Turkey. Greek Cypriot refugees fled south as Turkey seized the island's northern third, while Turkish Cypriots headed north.
In 1983, the Turkish-held northern part of the island declared itself the 'Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus' (TRNC). The TRNC is recognised by Ankara alone.
UN-sponsored talks - held in the 1980s and 90s between then-Greek Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides and leader of the Turkish-occupied north Rauf Denktash - collapsed without success. The north, recognised only by Turkey, slid into poverty and corruption, while tourism and offshore banking brought prosperity to the south.
Despite repeated efforts under the auspices of the UN to bring the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities to the negotiating table, the island has remained divided since 1974.
Hopes were rasied in 1992 when UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented a reunification plan, suggesting a two-part federation with a rotating presidency.
In April 2004, the Greek Cypriots rejected and the Turkish Cypriots approved in a referendum a UN-sponsored unity plan known as the Annan Plan. The plan's failure disappointed EU officials, who had agreed to allow Cyprus to join that year partly in the hope that doing so would encourage a solution to the Cyprus problem.
In May 2004, the Greek Cypriot-controlled 'Republic of Cyprus' became a full member of the EU.
At their December 2004 summit, EU leaders agreed to open accession talks with Turkey on 3 October 2005. One of the conditions specified was for Ankara to extend a 1963 association agreement with the EU's predecessor, the European Economic Community, to the Union's ten new member states. This group includes the Greek Cypriot state, which is not recognised by Turkey.
In July 2005, Turkey signed a protocol extending its customs union to the EU-10 states, but at the same time Ankara issued a declaration saying that its signature did not mean it had recognised the Republic of Cyprus. Turkey also refused to open its ports and airports to Cyprus.
Meanwhile, on 17 April 2005, pro-EU and pro-unification candidate Mehmet Ali Talat was elected president of the self-declared TRNC. He replaced 81-year-old Rauf Denktash in the post, becoming only the second elected president in the TRNC's history.
Following a series of debates among the EU-25 states, the Council on 3 October 2005 decided to open accession talks with Turkey. Under the negotiating framework for the country, Ankara's progress in its accession talks will be measured, among others, by its "continued support for efforts to achieve a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem within the UN framework and in line with the principles on which the Union is founded, including steps to contribute to a favourable climate for a comprehensive settlement, and progress in the normalisation of bilateral relations between Turkey and all EU member states, including the Republic of Cyprus".
On 29 November 2006, the European Commission recommended the partial suspension of talks, because Turkey had refused to implement the Ankara Protocol and open its trade to vessels from Cyprus. On 11 December 2006, EU foreign ministers agreed to follow a Commission recommendation to sanction Turkey and suspend talks on eight of 35 chapters. The eight chapters are: Free Movement of Goods, Right of Establishment and Freedom to Provide Services, Financial Services, Agriculture and Rural Development, Fisheries, Transport Policy, Customs Union and External Relations.
In a February 2008 run-off election against MEP Ioannis Kasoulides, Demetris Christofias was elected the sixth president of the Republic of Cyprus with 53.4% of the vote. The good personal relations between Christofias and Ali Talat offered new prospects for the island's reunification. The two leaders are also linked by political affinity, since they both come from left-leaning parties.
The new climate brought with it tangible improvements like the re-opening of the Ledra crossing in the heart of the capital, Nicosia, the re-opening of the famous church of Saint Mamas in Omorpho (in the North) and the cancellation of annual military exercises in the two areas.
The April 2009 legislative elections in Northern Cyprus returned a more nationalist government headed by Prime Minister Dervi? Eroglu (National Unity Party). President Ali Talat is thus in a less favourable position to proceed in the negotiation process with his southern counterpart. Presidential elections are scheduled for April 2010.
The last Commission progress report on Turkey (14 October 2009) said Ankara had not really advanced on normalising bilateral relations with the Republic of Cyprus. It highlighted how Turkey has not implemented the Additional Protocol of the Association Agreement, and has not removed all obstacles to the free movement of goods.