NEWS

Clerides may seek new term for peace

NICOSIA – Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides said yesterday he may seek re-election next month to keep the momentum in UN-brokered efforts to reunify the island by the time it joins the European Union in 2004. Cyprus is divided between Clerides’s Greek-Cypriot community and Turkish Cypriots in the north. Both sides have until February 28 to reach a deal in UN-brokered talks. Clerides, 83, is near the end of his second five-year term and polls are due by February 16 unless a last-minute peace deal forces a constitutional shake-up and makes them unnecessary. «Of course I am considering it, but I have not decided… if a solution is found on the 25th or 28th of February there will not be any reason for me to ask to continue as president of the Republic of Cyprus,» Clerides told Reuters in an interview. «If it’s not, then it would be very unwise in the middle of the negotiations to walk out and give the matter to somebody else.» A change in power in the Greek-Cypriot south just before the the deadline for a deal could complicate a process already fraught with problems, and close associates have asked Clerides to stay on at least until June. On the other side of the fence, Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash is facing unprecedented criticism for stonewalling chances to resolve the decades-old conflict. Cyprus was divided in 1974 when Turkey invaded the north in response to a Greek-Cypriot coup backed by a junta in Athens. Only Ankara, which keeps 30,000 troops on the island, recognizes the self-declared Turkish-Cypriot statelet. To date Clerides has kept the public guessing on whether he will seek a new mandate. Candidates must submit their bids to election authorities on January 17. Last year he held intensive direct talks with Denktash and in November the UN submitted a blueprint for a settlement. But the two sides failed to clinch a deal on the sidelines of an EU summit at Copenhagen last month before the internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot government was invited to join the bloc in 2004. Clerides said key elements of the UN proposal still needed negotiation, but described the talks as a chance to end a dispute that has kept NATO allies Greece and Turkey at loggerheads for more than 30 years. «It is an opportunity. The plan is a comprehensive solution in great detail… and it is the first time great international interest has been exhibited in the Cyprus problem.» The UN proposals that call for effective power sharing and limitations on the rights of displaced people to return to their former homes have been slammed by many Greek Cypriots for riding roughshod over human rights. Clerides appeared mildly critical of those Greek Cypriots who have already rejected the plan outright. «In my view it is unnecessary to have a debate because if a solution becomes possible there will be a period between February 28 and (the end of) March when a referendum will be held,» he said. The blueprint requires Clerides and Denktash to serve as co-presidents of Cyprus for a transitional period. Denktash, who has expressed strong reservations at parts of the plan, is facing unprecedented criticism at home for passing up a chance for peace and joining the Greek Cypriots in the EU. Some 30,000 Turkish Cypriots rallied on the streets of Nicosia last week calling for his resignation. The demonstrations were the first real challenge to the authority of Denktash, who has led the Turkish-Cypriot state since the Turkish invasion in 1974. Denktash wants a loose union of two largely independent states and frequently cites the intercommunal bloodshed of the 1960s and early 1970s. Clerides, who has sparred with Denktash since the days they were young barristers, was careful in speaking about the veteran leader. «Mr Denktash is a clever man but I think his whole attitude is rooted in the past, in trying to find solutions which would reflect the anomalies of a past era,» he said.