Anti-Denktash rally

As the largest demonstration ever held by Turkish Cypriots called for the resignation of Rauf Denktash, whom many of his compatriots blame for Cyprus’s ongoing division, reports from Nicosia suggested that President Glafcos Clerides might reconsider his decision not to stand for a third consecutive term in elections in February. About 30,000 Turkish Cypriots – many waving olive branches, banners and EU flags – marched through the Turkish-held part of Nicosia yesterday, demanding that their leaders meet the UN’s Feb. 28 deadline to agree to negotiations on the basis of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan to unite Cyprus. Cyprus was this month invited to become a member of the EU. Meeting the deadline would allow a united island to join. Otherwise, the Turkish-held part will be left out. «Feb. 28 is our last chance and Denktash is not negotiating,» Mehmet Ali Talat, leader of the major opposition Republican Turk Party, told the demonstrators. Other participants were the Communal Liberation Party, the local chamber of commerce, unions and other organizations. Although he says he will resume negotiations when Annan’s envoy Alvaro de Soto arrives on Cyprus on Jan. 7, Denktash opposes basic principles of the UN plan, especially those concerning territory, executive power and the return of some Greek-Cypriot refugees to their homes. The Turkish Foreign Ministry stands squarely behind Denktash. Turkey’s National Security Council is to meet today to discuss developments in Turkey and the region. The total population of northern Cyprus is about 200,000, of whom locally born Turkish Cypriots are believed to number less than half. The size of yesterday’s demonstration thus seems to be a serious indication of how strong pro-EU feelings are running. An opinion poll published earlier this month in Ortam newspaper found that 51.5 percent of Turkish Cypriots would support Annan’s plan if a referendum were held. In another poll, 57 percent of Greek Cypriots, who are heading for presidential elections in February, say it would be good if Clerides stood for re-election, the Cypriot daily Alitheia reported on Wednesday. Whereas Tassos Papadopoulos, who leads Democratic Rally, would get 47.1 percent if he ran against Socialist candidate Yiannakis Omirou, Clerides would get 43.9 percent against Papadopoulos’s 42.5 percent if they both ran, the poll suggested. If Papadopoulos ran against Clerides’s chief negotiating aide, Alekos Markides, he would get 43.2 percent to Markides’s 40.5 percent. Markides has not declared whether he will run. The poll was conducted between Dec.18-21, after the EU summit.

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