Simitis visits Cyprus

Prime Minister Costas Simitis arrived on Cyprus to a hero’s welcome yesterday as thousands of people turned out at the airport to celebrate their island’s signing an accession treaty with the European Union in Athens on Wednesday. Nicosia, symbolically, was Simitis’s first stop on the traditional round of EU capitals that he will make on behalf of the EU presidency, which is currently held by Greece. Simitis and President Tassos Papadopoulos celebrated Cyprus’s accession (it will join on May 1 next year), but both noted that efforts to reunify the divided island would continue. Simitis is to meet with representatives of Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot parties at the Greek ambassador’s residence in Nicosia today. Only opposition leaders from the Turkish-Cypriot side have accepted his invitation. Papadopoulos, welcoming Simitis, thanked him for his help in Cyprus’s accession. «Our people… justifiably consider you the architect of the historic success of Cyprus’s accession to the European Union,» Papadopoulos said. «The people welcome you with a great and warm ‘thank you’,» he said. «I am here because two days ago we experienced an historic moment,» Simitis replied. «The Republic of Cyprus signed the Accession Treaty with the EU and now belongs to the European family. It takes its rightful place. This was not easy. I want to thank the Cypriot people for the effort they made… It took a long, painful effort from all of us,» he said. «This was the result of years of common effort, with common aims. We will continue in this way in the future.» Although the failure of UN-mediated reunification talks in February means that Turkish-Cypriots will not enjoy the benefits of EU membership until the problem is solved, Simitis sought to reassure them that efforts to end Cyprus’s division will continue. «As president of the European Council and as prime minister of Greece, I want to assure the Turkish-Cypriot community that our efforts – always in the framework of the United Nations – will continue in search of a viable and functional solution. They will continue unabated,» Simitis said.