President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash yesterday had their first meeting since the UN presented its proposal for a solution to the Cyprus issue last November. The meeting comes at a time of unprecedented pressure on Denktash to agree to a deal before the UN deadline of Feb. 28. A UN statement said the two agreed to negotiate on the basis of General-Secretary Kofi Annan’s plan with a view to meeting the deadline. They will meet tomorrow to agree on a program of intensive negotiations for the coming weeks. UN mediator Alvaro de Soto and US envoy Thomas Weston will be in Athens today. On Tuesday, between 50,000 and 60,000 Turkish Cypriots, out of a total population of about 200,000 people in the north of Cyprus, held the biggest demonstration in the breakaway territory’s history. They called on Denktash to sign a deal with the Greek Cypriots or resign so that agreement can be reached and the Turkish Cypriots join the EU with the rest of the island in 2004. Annan and the US State Department spokesman spoke out in favor of the protests, urging Denktash to heed their message. «It is very difficult not to listen to the people when they come out in such numbers,» Annan said on Tuesday. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, «There are very large demonstrations in Cyprus today that show that Turkish Cypriots understand the significant benefits of achieving that kind of comprehensive settlement and achieving it now. Obviously, we couldn’t agree more.» He added, «Peace is a good thing, and people demonstrating in support of this opportunity to achieve peace, they are supporting the right thing.» Asked whether this implied that the US sided with Denktash’s critics in asking for his resignation, Boucher said, «I don’t think it’ll come as any surprise to Mr Denktash that the United States supports peace and that we support a settlement. That’s what we’re saying here.» The Greek government said Tuesday’s protest in the occupied part of Nicosia was a «significant development.» Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Cassoulides added, «This is the first time that such strong statements by foreign leaders criticizing Denktash have been made.» Yesterday, supporters of Denktash held counter demonstrations in the occupied towns of Morphou and Famagusta. The Associated Press said some 300 people, mostly settlers, demonstrated in Famagusta. Turkey’s Anatolia news agency listed slogans such as «We are the silent majority,»«Wherever Denktash is, we are,» «We won’t be another Crete in the 21st century,» «Yes to two states, no to a cantonal system.» Turkish Parliament speaker Bulent Arinc yesterday urged Turkish Cypriots to stay united behind Denktash.