New unrest in occupied north Cyprus

NICOSIA (AFP) – Several thousand Turkish Cypriots spilled into the streets and trade unions called a general strike yesterday in protest at a police clampdown on a mock referendum initiative to reunite the divided island for joint entry into the European Union. Six people – among them senior pro-EU unionists – were charged with undermining the security of the breakaway state in the island’s north for organizing the symbolic referendum. Some 4,000 demonstrators gathered in the Turkish-held sector of Nicosia and marched on the main police center after non-governmental organizations and opposition parties called for the protest, an AFP correspondent said. Civil servants, teachers and workers, meanwhile, stayed away from work after several trade unions called a nationwide strike in the occupied territories. The protest followed a violent police clampdown on an attempt by opposition parties to hold a symbolic referendum on a UN peace plan for the island late on Tuesday. The plan, which the United Nations wanted to submit to a referendum by both the Turkish and the Greek communities of the island, was rejected by Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash earlier this month. Scores of police used truncheons to break up the mock referendum in the small village of Doganci, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of Nicosia. In a move that triggered a public outcry, police detained six people – three senior trade unionists, two local opposition politicians and a local trade chamber leader – who were accused of organizing the initiative. The six were charged yesterday with «setting up an underground organization to destroy» the self-styled state, an offense under which they face up to five years in jail if convicted, before being released. The opposition has announced plans to hold a similar mock referendum tomorrow in the northern port town of Kyrenia. European Parliament President Pat Cox protested at the arrests. «I appeal to the authorities to respect the plurality of opinion on an issue on which the people hold deeply felt convictions and views,» he said. «I call for tolerance, not a heavy hand.»

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