Turkish strains over Cyprus issue

One day after a mass demonstration rocked the Turkish-occupied part of Nicosia with calls for the signing of a UN peace plan and entry into the EU, the two different strands of Turkish policy on the Cyprus issue were again visible yesterday. The leader of Turkey’s ruling party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said that he saw no reason why a UN-proposed plan for the island’s reunification could not be accepted by the Feb. 28 deadline. On the other hand, Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash said that the calls of some 30,000 demonstrators on Thursday for his resignation had brought tears to his eyes, and insisted that Turkish Cypriots should be granted full sovereignty. It is this demand that has stymied efforts to solve the Cyprus problem for decades. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has given the two sides on Cyprus until Feb. 28 to say whether they accept his proposal for a comprehensive solution. If they both accept, a united Cyprus will be able to join the EU. Otherwise, the Turkish Cypriots will be left out, a prospect that has provoked the unprecedented protests in northern Cyprus. Turkish President Ahmet Sezer and the Foreign Ministry last week declared their support for Denktash. But Erdogan, who leads the Justice and Development Party, took a different line. «Why should it not be resolved by Feb. 28?» he asked, referring to the Cyprus issue. «I believe it can be resolved in a short time if there are negotiations,» he told Turkey’s NTV news channel, Agence France-Presse reported. «If we cannot resolve this issue, (the protests) will grow,» he said. «We cannot assess the dispute with a logic dating back 40 years,» he said. This was seen in Ankara as veiled criticism of Denktash. Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul was to meet today with Denktash’s son, Serdar, who serves as «deputy prime minister» in the breakaway Turkish-Cypriot state. Denktash father and son were to return to Cyprus tomorrow. The Cyprus government spokesman, Michalis Papapetrou, hailed Thursday’s demonstration as a «shattering political event.» He added: «The message is loud and clear… We join our voices to that of the majority of Turkish Cypriots for reunification, EU entry and a settlement by Feb. 28 after negotiations on the UN plan.» The top-selling Turkish-Cypriot newspaper, the independent Kibris, ran a front page headline yesterday saying, «Denktash Resign. You have no right to play with our future. We are Europeans.» It commented: «An overwhelming majority of Turkish Cypriots want a settlement by Feb. 28 and EU membership… Denktash and Ankara must listen to their demands.» The opposition Afrika paper said: «Turkish Cypriots have rebelled against Denktash and the generals backing him… If Denktash fails to resign, there could be even more protests.» Denktash responded from Ankara that negotiations require «patience, prudence and reason.» In comments to Turkish-Cypriot Guven radio, he said, «You cannot do it like this, with excitement, yelling… Certainly this will not boost our bargaining power.» Denktash claimed the UN plan offered the Turkish Cypriots only a «decorated minority» status, and did not ensure their equality with the Greek Cypriots. «It will not be the end of the world» if Cyprus were not reunified in time for EU membership and only the Greek Cypriots joined, he said. «Talks will continue in another form and the door will remain open for northern Cyprus’s admission to the EU.»

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