NEWS

Cypriots speed up talks

President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash met yesterday in Nicosia and arranged to meet three times a week from now on in an effort to reach a deal by Feb. 28 that will allow a reunited island to join the EU. While both have agreed to discuss UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's proposal, Denktash yesterday claimed it would lead to «a crime against humanity.» Clerides yesterday submitted his re-election bid in next month's presidential ballot on Cyprus. Nine other candidates include Communist AKEL-backed lawyer Tassos Papadopoulos and Attorney-General Alecos Markides, to free-love candidate Costas Kyriakou. Clerides, 83, says he will serve only 16 months of the five-year term if elected, so that he can complete negotiations to solve the Cyprus issue. If no deal is reached, only the Greek-Cypriots will join the EU in early 2004. Turkish officials yesterday called on Turkish Cypriots to unite behind Denktash, who has come under unprecedented pressure following mass demonstrations by his compatriots demanding that he resign or sign the Annan deal. The government in Ankara, the UN and US officials have all urged him to heed the demonstrators and work toward a deal. Yesterday, after meeting with Dervis Eroglu, the «prime minister» of the breakaway state in the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus, Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul said, «These are very important days. These are days when we should protect our unity, solidarity and integrity.» The government wants a solution by Feb. 28. Denktash, who opposes the return of territory to Greek Cypriots and to allowing refugees to return to Turkish-held areas, said Annan's plan «will give rise to a crime against humanity.» Speaking after a meeting with US envoy Thomas Weston, he added, «Such plans, maps and proposals which will affect 50,000 people were made without any thought... No one has the right to do this.» Denktash added that no provision had been made to resettle the Turkish Cypriots who would have to move. Eroglu, at a symposium on the Cyprus issue in Ankara, claimed, «This plan targets the expulsion of Turkey from the island and the annihilation of Turkish Cypriots over time.» After meeting with Clerides, Weston said: «We are trying to meet the common goal of a settlement... a settlement we very much want to see reached in a very short period of time.»

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