NICOSIA- The Associated Press
Turkey's political and military leaders joined thousands of residents in the northern half of divided Cyprus on Wednesday at a funeral service for former Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktaş.
Turkey's President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
were among mourners filing past Denktaş's coffin at the presidential palace where it lied in state for two days to pay their last respects before his burial in the Turkish Cypriot part of the island's capital.
Erdoğan wrote in a condolence book that Denktash's death was a great loss for all Turks, but that Turkey would continue to support the Turkish Cypriots and their breakaway state and be "the source of peace and freedom on the island," Turkey's state-run Anadolu agency reported.
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Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey intervened in the wake of a coup attempt by supporters of union with Greece. Denktaş was the force behind the 1983 declaration of an independent state which only Turkey recognizes. Denktaş led the state until 2005 when he bowed out of politics, although he continued to be an outspoken critic of reunification.
The island joined the European Union
in 2004, but only the internationally recognized Greek
Cypriots in the south enjoy membership benefits.
A gun carriage transported Denktash's coffin, draped with the flags of Turkey and the Northern Cyprus state to the Selimiye Mosque.
Thousands of mourners lined the cortege's route, many wearing scarves and buttons bearing the late leader's image and breaking into applause as the coffin, escorted by a full military honor guard, drove past. Denktaş posters were on numerous storefronts.
"I feel like I lose my dad," Turkish Cypriot mourner Salih Kayim told the Associated Press. "We will always miss him...we thank him because he gave us freedom and we're living under our own flag," said the 39-year-old father of two small daughters.
"He was a great leader. We won't forget him, never," said Yusuf Mulladayilar, 54.
Denktaş's final resting place is the appropriately named Park of the Republic where he and other colleagues created the Turkish Resistance Organization, or TMT, in the 1950s as a counterweight to a Greek
Cypriot guerrilla campaign to achieve union with Greece.
Denktaş's influence extended beyond the island and into mainland Turkey where he was regarded as a defender of the Turkish Cypriots among politicians and the public alike. He believed that Turkish Cypriots needed a separate state to preserve peace and prevent what he called the massacres of his people by the majority Greek
A number of U.N. facilitated attempts to reunify Cyprus while Denktaş was in power ended in failure.
The latest round of peace talks between Greek
Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Derviş Eroğlu, a Denktash protege, is foundering more than three years after its start.