Clerides seeks his third term as president

NICOSIA – Years before Glafcos Clerides became president of Cyprus, opposition circles said the former barrister was jinxed by a family curse. His father, so the story goes, cursed him after his own bid for the presidency failed in 1959. Clerides broke ranks with his father then to support Archbishop Makarios, the island’s first president. Clerides’s career centered around the divisions which briefly turned Cyprus into a battleground of the Mediterranean and the uneasy partition which followed. Be it as negotiator with rival Turkish Cypriots when they withdrew from the government in 1963, as acting president after a foiled Greek-Cypriot coup and the subsequent Turkish invasion, or as president for two terms a quarter of a century later, his life has revolved around the intricacies of the Cyprus problem. Clerides said yesterday he would seek re-election in next month’s presidential polls. The 83-year-old president entered politics early in life. As a London-trained barrister he defended Greek-Cypriot guerrillas fighting British colonial rule. But his real love was politics. By 1974, he had held every key post in government save that of president. He was speaker of Parliament and acting president for six months after the Turkish invasion of July 1974. He quit upon Makarios’s return to Cyprus in December of that year, amid criticism that he had overstepped his authority. Clerides created the Democratic Rally party in 1976, which according to opposition parties harbored right-wing elements seen responsible for the coup which preceded the invasion. He was then banished to the political wilderness until 1993, when he was elected president. Sharp and incisive – he could relate every single United Nations resolution on Cyprus with dates – he appeared to relish each opportunity of taking on veteran Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash. Clerides and Denktash first crossed swords across a criminal court when they were representing opposing sides. «Nobody knows Denktash as well as I do. I know how he thinks, how he acts,» Clerides once said. Widely credited with moving the island to the brink of EU membership and forging closer ties with Greece, Clerides advocates reunifying Cyprus in a federation with a central government with two distinct regions, one Greek and the other Turkish. The affable Clerides was a former gunner and pilot for Britain’s Royal Air Force, and is now the only serving head of state to have seen military action in World War II. He was shot down in 1942 during a bombing raid on Hamburg. He tried to escape Nazi detention camps three times. The second time he was caught he was put in chains for a year. «The third time I escaped it was easy. I just ran in the direction of the allied forces,» he told Reuters recently. Clerides married his Indian-born wife Lila-Irene in 1948. She once said she went on her first date after taking pity on the scraggly youth who had just been released from a concentration camp. The two, who have one daughter, renewed their marriage vows in 1995.

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