NEWS

Island’s youngest government minister elected president 44 years later

NICOSIA – Tassos Papadopoulos, a little-known lawyer of 25, was a shock appointment as the youngest minister in Cyprus’s first independence government at the end of British colonial rule in 1959. A lifetime of politics later, he is the fifth president of Cyprus. Archbishop Makarios, the island’s first president, picked the London-trained lawyer for the first independence Cabinet because of Papadopoulos’s involvement – until then kept secret – as a political leader of the Greek-Cypriot EOKA underground that fought Britain for independence. Following his victory over incumbent veteran politician Glafcos Clerides on Sunday, Papadopoulos, 69, will represent Greek Cypriots in the pivotal UN-sponsored negotiations with the Turkish-Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash. From 1959 to 1970, Papadopoulos held various Cabinet posts. As minister of labor and social insurance, he introduced the island’s smooth-running social insurance scheme, earning the lasting gratitude of trade unions. He left the government in 1970 and formed his own right-of-center Center Union Party while building up his law office into one of the island’s most successful. His party later merged with the centrist Democratic Party of Spyros Kyprianou, the second president of Cyprus. Papadopoulos became leader of the party, the island’s third largest, when Kyprianou resigned because of ill health in 2000. Papadopoulos’s victory over Clerides, 83, resulted from an alliance he formed with the largest Greek-Cypriot political party, the communist AKEL, and smaller leftist parties. Papadopoulos won Sunday’s election despite heavy mudslinging by Clerides’s ruling Democratic Rally party. He was accused of being an anti-Turkish hardliner, of being involved in shady deals during the boom days of the Cyprus stock market and of involvement, through his law office, in breaking UN sanctions on Yugoslavia during the rule of President Slobodan Milosevic. Papadopoulos denied the accusations and the attorney general’s office issued statements clearing him. His supporters claim the mudslinging may have boomeranged and helped Papadopoulos to his narrow election victory with just 51.55 percent of the votes cast, compared to Clerides’s 38.8. Papadopoulos, who served as chief negotiator for the Greek-Cypriot side in earlier talks with Denktash from 1976-78, angrily rejects accusations he is a staunch opponent of Turkish Cypriots. In his first remarks after his election, he assured Turkish Cypriots that their rights will not be affected by changes he wants in the reunification plan presented by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He said these changes will benefit both communities as they deal with rights of all refugees, Greek and Turkish Cypriot, to return and repossess property. «I want to assure my Turkish-Cypriot compatriots that these are baseless charges made against me by my political opponents,» Papadopoulos said. Papadopoulos has long chaired the EU Affairs Committee, building close relations with the European Parliament. There, he has been a strong advocate of a Cyprus settlement based on full respect for the European Convention of Human Rights and the EU acquis, or basic law.