Celebrations as Greek Cypriots join European Union

NICOSIA (AP) – Champagne corks popped yesterday as Greek Cypriots celebrated the signing of Cyprus’s accession agreement to the European Union, hailing it as a major step toward reuniting their war-divided island. Cheering Greek Cypriots gathered around giant TV screens set up in streets to watch their leader, Tassos Papadopoulos, and heads of nine other new EU members sign the agreements during a ceremony held in Athens. «The signing constitutes a crowning achievement in the 9,000 years of the checkered history of Cyprus,» a deeply moved Papadopoulos said during the ceremony. «I regret that the artificial dividing wall imposed by force prevents our Turkish-Cypriot compatriots from joining us within the framework of a reunified Cyprus on the road to Europe,» he said. While the whole of Cyprus was accepted as an EU member, only Greek Cypriots living on the southern half of the island will benefit from EU laws and benefits after Turkish-Cypriot officials rejected a United Nations plan for the island’s reunification. Papadopoulos said he would work harder for reunification so EU laws and respect for human rights «may apply throughout the territory of Cyprus and so end the tragedy of our country as the only divided one in united Europe.» Following Cyprus’s EU accession, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, who boycotted the signing ceremony in Athens, pledged to try to resolve the standoff during the coming year. «There’s still time for a solution,» Gul said in televised remarks. «We hope that changes will be made (to the UN plan) and that there will be reconciliation.» «We are happy because we see joining the EU as opening the way for reunification based on respect for human rights, particularly our right to return to our homes and properties,» said Andreas Georgiou, a Greek-Cypriot refugee from the Turkish-occupied north. In an interview with Greek-run radio yesterday, European Commission President Romano Prodi said Cyprus’s accession «will unavoidably result in a settlement of the (Cyprus) problem.» But the Turkish-Cypriot «cabinet» issued a statement blasting the EU accession. «Today there are two separate peoples in Cyprus and two states exist,» the statement quoted by Turkey’s Anatolia news agency said, adding that Cyprus’s accession agreement wasn’t «binding or legally valid.» However, Turkish-Cypriot opposition leader Mehmet Ali Talat slammed Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash for rejecting the UN plan and blocking the accession of a unified Cyprus to the EU. «April 16 is the day when Denktash’s policies failed,» Talat said. «Denktash’s policies have enabled Greek Cypriots to become EU members by themselves, excluded Turkish Cypriots and caused Turkey to face many problems.»