NICOSIA, Cyprus -- Rauf Denktash failed to capture a majority of votes in the race for president of the self-declared Turkish republic in northern Cyprus on Saturday, sending the elections into a second round of voting.

Denktash is fighting for re-election in the Turkish-run third of the Mediterranean island.a month before new indirect talks with Greek Cypriots in the south in hopes of forging a solution to the island's bitter and protracted division.

The incumbent president garnered close to 44 percent of votes, while his main contender, Prime Minister Dervis Eroglu, had 30 percent, according to the Turkish Cypriot Higher Election Board.

Two left-wing candidates -- Mehmet Ali Talat and Mustafa Akinci -- together took 22 percent of Saturday's vote. Another four percent went to three other left-wing candidates.

Denktash and Eroglu will face one another in the second round on April 22.

"The people placed their trust in me again. I will be stronger to fight for the (Turkish Cypriot) cause on May 23," Denktash told supporters from the balcony of the presidential palace, referring to the new talks.

The president had asked voters for support to strengthen his hand in the upcoming negotiations on the future of the divided island. He has steadfastly insisted on formal recognition of the Turkish state.

Eroglu, 62, formerly supported two separate states as a permanent solution to the conflict, but has since come out in favor of a confederal solution with Greek Cypriots.

Yusuf Kanli, an expert on Turkish Cyprus, said he expected Talat and Akinci to push Denktash toward moderating his position on a settlement. Both left-wing candidates favor a quick solution in the talks so that Turkish Cypriots can join the Greek side in membership talks with the European Union.

The impending negotiations, the third round of U.N.-mediated talks to be held in New York, were expected to boost support for Denktash's campaign as he heads into the runoff.

"Had it been at another time, it wouldn't have been so important to choose Denktash. But he must finish this peace deal," said 25-year-old Gurhum Umut, who said he was voting for the first time because he was worried that Denktash would need every vote.

But some voters were skeptical that Denktash could achieve peace after so many years of animosity with Greek Cypriots.

"Denktash hasn't solved the issue in decades. You think he will now?" said Mevlut Haci Mevlut, an Eroglu supporter.

After polls closed, a preliminary tally showed that 76 percent of the electorate voted.

Cyprus has been divided into Turkish and Greek sections since a 1974 Turkish invasion, which came in the wake of an Athens-backed coup by supporters of union with Greece.

Denktash, 75, established the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in 1983 and is leader of his community of 200,000. His self-declared state is only recognized by Turkey, which maintains some 30,000 troops on the island.

However, he has faced a strong challenge from Eroglu, who has built support through his role as prime minister and the distribution of social assistance. Eroglu forced Denktash into a run-off in the last election in 1995.