The Cyprus issue took a significant turn yesterday after Turkey’s unofficial leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, criticized Rauf Denktash in the harshest language any Turkish official has used against the man who has led Turkish Cypriots for the past three decades and who still enjoys the backing of the military and state establishment. The Cyprus issue, Erdogan declared, is not Denktash’s «personal business» and he suggested that Denktash pay attention to the 30,000 demonstrators who have called for a deal that will reunite the island and allow Turkish Cypriots to join the EU when Cyprus does in early 2004. The current effort by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has a deadline of Feb. 28. Erdogan, speaking on a Turkish regional television channel late on Wednesday, stressed the importance of the deadline. «If a decision in the direction of a solution does not emerge by Feb. 28 then things will get harder,» he said. This was an indication that the Turkish government will try to solve an issue that could otherwise jeopardize its own hopes of joining the EU. «I do not favor pursuing policies which have been pursued on Cyprus for 30-40 years,» Erdogan said. «We will do whatever falls on us. This business is not Mr Denktash’s personal business. It’s not Ahmet’s or Mehmet’s or Tayyip Erdogan’s. It’s the struggle of a nation for existence,» he added. «Denktash has said the UN plan was negotiable. He said he did not trust the other side,» Erdogan said. «We should leave the issue of trust aside. We find the plan negotiable so we should negotiate on it.» The mass demonstration last week was «not an ordinary event,» Erdogan said. «It should be evaluated carefully. One cannot brush aside the public’s view on this issue.» Denktash responded: «He says the issue is not Denktash’s personal issue and that we need to follow the will of the people… But what do the people want?… Have they given up the idea of sovereignty and political equality?» But there was more trouble for Denktash yesterday. He met with leaders of the Turkish-Cypriot opposition who repeated their calls for him to resign. «We see his resignation from the negotiator’s post as a basic condition to ensure the talks result in success,» opposition leader Mehmet Ali Talat said after the meeting. Another opposition politician, Huseyin Angolemli, said, «We asked Denktash to quit as negotiator because he has fallen out with his people.» A poll among Turkish Cypriots published yesterday suggested that 60.1 percent are in favor of joining the EU, 72.9 percent would like to see a solution and accession at the same time, 59.9 percent would not object to moving in order to allow a solution and 91.6 percent would vote yes in a referendum if Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot leaders accepted the UN plan. Cypriot Foreign Minister Yiannakis Cassoulides said Erdogan’s criticism signaled the end of the Turkish-Cypriot leader’s career. «We are witnessing the beginning of the post-Denktash era,» Cassoulides said. Government spokesman Michalis Papapetrou added, «Indications are that the new Turkish government is gaining points daily in its dispute with the political establishment over the new state of things in Turkey.» President Glafcos Clerides yesterday suggested he may stand for a third term next month if no deal on Cyprus is reached soon.