Denktash hurries back

Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash hastened back to the Turkish-held north of Cyprus yesterday and, in what appeared to be a gesture to protesters against his policies, promised to do all he could to reach a deal that would allow a united island to join the EU. But protests by Turkish Cypriots blaming Denktash for not accepting the UN proposal for a deal were set to continue. The occupied part of Nicosia was rocked by a mass demonstration of some 30,000 people last Thursday and an opposition party’s youth wing was to hold another yesterday afternoon, but reports from Cyprus said the Turkish-Cypriot authorities had banned it. Britain’s Observer newspaper reported from Nicosia yesterday that organizers of last week’s protest «are planning a New Year’s Eve rally when tens of thousands of people there could be ready to smash through the ceasefire line if 78-year-old Denktash fails to yield to their demands.» The paper said Ankara has reinforced 35,000 troops on Cyprus with special forces. Denktash is to meet with opposition leaders today, including those who organized Thursday’s demonstration and who have called for his resignation. Denktash had been in Ankara since early December for medical treatment. He missed UN-mediated talks in Copenhagen that were aimed at getting Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots to agree to Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s proposal for a solution. Annan has now given the two sides until Feb. 28 to reach agreement on the basis for a deal. «We will do all we can up to the end of February,» Denktash said in Ankara before flying to Cyprus. «If we cannot achieve a result by the end of February, then we would like an agreement to be reached during March. We will try,» he said. But he lashed out against what he called pressure from the UN, the EU and Turkish-Cypriot protesters to reach a deal, saying «there is no question of yielding to the diktats of anyone.» Decades of UN-mediated negotiations to reunite the island have stumbled on Denktash’s demand for international recognition for his breakaway state. His objections to Annan’s plan concern the return of territory to Greek Cypriots, the return of some refugees to northern Cyprus and how executive power will be shared. These objections could once again block agreement, leaving Turkish Cypriots out of the EU when Cyprus joins in 2004. Negotiations are expected to resume on Jan. 7. Two committees of Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot experts also are to begin meetings from that date. Cyprus’s attorney general, Alekos Markides, said that Cyprus will inform the UN by Jan. 2 of the first 10 of a total of 32 pieces of legislation that the committees will draft (and which will come into effect when the island’s division ends). Denktash yesterday played down the importance of the protests against him. «Everyone wants peace, that’s good… but sometimes any peace does not really bring peace,» he said. He also tried to get the Turkish government to ease its pressure on him as it works toward its own closer ties with the EU. «The Cyprus issue is not an obstacle for Turkey’s EU membership,» he claimed. Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul met on Saturday with Denktash’s son, Serdar, who serves as a «minister» in the administration of the unrecognized Turkish-Cypriot state. Gul said afterward that Turkish Cypriots must remain united.

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