NEWS

Clerides will run again for presidency

Citing his «historic responsibility» as efforts intensify to end Cyprus’s 28-year division and the island approaches EU membership, President Glafcos Clerides announced yesterday that he will seek a third consecutive term in office in elections on Feb. 16. But, he added, he will stay in office for a limited term of 16 months of the five-year term and he urged all political parties on the island to join in a government of national unity. Meanwhile, the leader of Turkey’s ruling party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, kept up the pressure on Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash to reach a deal. «Developments are rapid and historic. They will determine the future of Cyprus and in the next few months we will be called upon to reach major decisions,» Clerides told a news conference in Nicosia. «We must seek a viable settlement of the Cyprus problem with determination and good sense.» Saying his term’s end on Feb. 28 left too little time, he explained: «In order to negotiate a just and viable settlement, I need sufficient time and a clear mandate from the people… This is why I feel that my historic responsibility imposes on me the duty to contest the next presidential elections for a limited time.» Feb. 28 is also the deadline set by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for Greek and Turkish Cypriots to agree to his proposal for the island’s reunification. Clerides, 83, said that it had been a difficult decision for him to make. He informed Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis of his decision before announcing it, presidential aide Pantelis Kouros told reporters. Although Simitis’s office kept silent, maintaining Athens’s neutrality over the issue of Cyprus’s elections, government officials privately expressed satisfaction, as they had been concerned that the coming electoral battle could have complicated the efforts to solve the Cyprus issue. However, Clerides’s announcement did not please the AKEL communist party – Cyprus’s largest – and the centrist Democratic Party (DEKO), which both back the latter’s leader, Tassos Papadopoulos, for the presidency. They also rejected the call for a government of national unity. Cyprus government spokesman Michalis Papapetrou said that Clerides had written to Annan confirming «the desire of the Greek-Cypriot side for intensive negotiations on the Cyprus issue so that timetables can be kept.» Turkey’s foreign minister, Yasar Yakis, said yesterday that the deadline was an artificial one, designed to coincide with the end of Clerides’s term. April 16, the date on which Cyprus and nine other countries will sign EU accession treaties in Athens, was more realistic, he said. «Feb. 28 is an artificial date. It does not reflect the expiration of any specific time,» he told Turkey’s NTV news channel. «April 16 represents a more concrete deadline.» The UN plan, however, provides for referenda by the two communities on Cyprus at the end of March after a deal is reached. Erdogan stepped up the pressure on Denktash to work toward a solution. «There is a problem to be solved in Cyprus,» he said yesterday. «We should sit at the table, put our position forward… and solve it,» he added. «This issue has remained a problem over the last 40 years… And it will grow to become a bigger problem with each coming generation… We want the negotiations to continue, and we want this issue to be concluded.»