NEWS

Turkish Cypriots speak

The Turkish-occupied part of Nicosia was rocked yesterday by the biggest demonstration ever held there, as over 50,000 Turkish Cypriots held a rally calling on their leader, Rauf Denktash, to meet the UN deadline and sign a deal that will allow a united island to join the EU. Otherwise, they demanded, he should resign. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed optimism that the Feb. 28 deadline could be met, and he urged Denktash to heed the voice of his people. Denktash and President Glafcos Clerides are to hold direct talks in Nicosia today on Annan’s proposal for a common state made up of two component states. «Looking ahead we can see that we are within striking distance of reuniting Cyprus,» Annan said. «I am pleased that the people are out in the streets promoting peace and demanding unification.» Hasan Asturul, editor of the Turkish-Cypriot daily Kibris, told Greece’s NET state television that more than 50,000 of the 100,000 «original Turkish Cypriots» left on the island were at the demonstration. Other estimates put the crowd at up to 70,000. The total population of the breakaway state is some 200,000. A previous rally, on Dec. 26, drew 30,000 people, shook officials in Ankara and, as the veteran Turkish-Cypriot leader confessed, brought tears to Denktash’s eyes. Annan stressed in New York that a solution had to be reached soon. «I think we are going to press ahead with the negotiations. The deadline of the 28th of February is a firm one,» he said. «Obviously it is up to the people to decide who their leader is and up to the leader to decide whether to persist or resign. But whether a leader resigns or stays on, I think the people are speaking, and it is very difficult not to listen to the people when they come out in those numbers,» Annan said. «What I would urge the leaders is, listen to the voices of the ordinary people about their desire for peace.» Denktash rejects basic principles of Annan’s plan. «I am very sorry to say there’s not much of a chance if we are not given more time. The time is too short and with all the good will on earth the handicaps of this plan cannot be done away with in this short a time,» he told Reuters. In another interview, he said he would not resign. «In the past, the hands that applauded me later threw stones at me and then asked for my forgiveness. These are the quirks of politics,» Denktash told a Turkish TV channel. In Strasbourg, where he presented Greece’s program as EU president to the European Parliament, Prime Minister Costas Simitis referred to the «huge mobilization for peace among Cypriots.» Denktash, he said, «has not given us any sign that he will go along with the plan and is instead continuing with the negotiations in the hope that in the end the plan will be abandoned.» Foreign Minister George Papandreou said of the protest: «It is a message for all of us, a message of peace, a message of democracy, a message that at last we should overcome the stereotypes with which we all see each other in our region.»