NEWS

Confusion reigns in Cyprus poll

The presidential elections in Cyprus next month were thrown into confusion when President Glafcos Clerides’s closest aide in the talks for an end to the Cyprus problem, Attorney General Alekos Markides, suddenly announced on Saturday that he would run against the incumbent and other candidates. Clerides, 83, had announced his own candidacy for a third consecutive term on Friday, saying he had an «historic responsibility» to run for a limited term of 16 months to bring the negotiations on a UN plan for Cyprus to their conclusion. Elections are due on Feb. 16, whereas the deadline for Greek and Turkish Cypriots to say whether they accept Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan as the basis for a solution is Feb. 28. Until Friday, the clear front-runner was Tassos Papadopoulos of the centrist Democratic Party (DHKO), who is backed by the Communist AKEL, the island’s largest party. Both Clerides and Markides belong to the Democratic Rally (DHSY). Opinion polls had shown each getting more votes than Papadopoulos if a candidate. But now they could split the centrist vote, allowing Papadopoulos to win. But the fact that the president and his aide who is the chief negotiator on the Cyprus issue were running against each other caused further complications, raising questions as to whether Markides would resign his post. Furthermore, other political parties attacked both men. AKEL leader Dimitris Christofias accused Clerides and Markides of having «joint responsibility» and for being «an obstacle to a solution.» He added, «The basic negotiator for the Cyprus issue was Alekos Markides, and everything bad that we face today stems from President Clerides but also weighs on Mr Markides.» Clerides, at a blessing of the waters ceremony in Limassol yesterday, said only that «swift developments are expected (in the Cyprus issue). May the Holy Spirit, like a dove, show the solution.» Markides said yesterday he would do his duty regarding the negotiations, irrespective of whether this would jeopardize his election chances. He said he will explain at a news conference tomorrow why he chose to run. Today he is to head a committee of Greek Cypriots at the start of a series of meetings with Turkish Cypriots to draft laws aimed at reuniting the island after a deal is reached. Government spokesman Michalis Papapetrou said if he were in Markides’s position, «I would resign.» The split among Greek Cypriots follows the triumph of the EU decision to invite Cyprus to become a member. If there is no agreement between the two communities by Feb. 28, only Greek Cypriots will join the EU. This prospect has prompted Turkish Cypriots to hold demonstrations calling for a deal and for their veteran leader, Rauf Denktash, to resign. The latest of these protests was held by Turkish-Cypriot students in Istanbul on Saturday. Denktash has been holding meetings with all party leaders in his breakaway state since Thursday, in a bid to end the calls for his resignation. Yesterday, after the latest meeting, the so-called «prime minister» of the breakaway state, Dervis Eroglu, said, «It has been revealed that there is consensus of opinion on many issues.» Eroglu is a supporter of Denktash and it was not clear what the opposition parties had concluded after the meetings. A poll published yesterday by the biggest Turkish-Cypriot daily, Kibris, showed that 65.4 percent of those polled approved of the UN plan for reunifying the island, while 28.2 percent said no. Even in the region of Morphou, which is to be given back to Greek Cypriots under the plan, 75.3 percent backed the plan.