Erdogan toes the line

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus yesterday and put paid to the impression that he and Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash disagreed on the Cyprus issue. Erdogan wholly aligned himself with Denktash’s hard line on Cyprus, calling for any solution to be based on recognition of the breakaway Turkish-Cypriot state, recognized only by Turkey. He also urged Greece to start trading with the Turkish Cypriots, something which Greece and the rest of the EU reject, saying that the breakaway state is not a legal entity with which one can do business. «I am calling on the whole world, from the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, to end the inhumane sanctions the Turkish-Cypriot people have been enduring for 40 years,» Erdogan said. He said that Ankara would lift restrictions on Cypriot trade if the «embargo» against Turkish Cypriots ended. After talks with Denktash, Erdogan said the UN proposal for the island’s reunification could still be the subject of negotiations. But as he arrived on the island, he made an appeal that is contrary to Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan. «In Cyprus, there are two peoples which are in every way equal, with separate language and religion, two separate democracies and two separate states. Peace efforts on Cyprus should be based on these realities,» Erdogan said. Denktash mentioned the recent easing of restrictions on travel between the island’s north and south, saying no one could claim he oppressed the Turkish Cypriots. «Whoever wants to can come and visit us and have a good time, to go on an excursion and visit his house, but not one has the right to say, ‘This is my house.’ This will be solved at the government level,» Denktash said. The Turkish Cypriots yesterday announced a set of confidence-building measures which are aimed at bolstering their claims to statehood. These include increasing from one to three the number of checkpoints UN peacekeepers can use to cross the Green Line and providing scholarships for Greek Cypriots in Turkish-Cypriot universities. Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos rejected the proposals, saying they were «designed to solidify the existence of two separate states in Cyprus.» In Athens, Greek Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou warned in an interview with Mega Channel yesterday that armed Turkish warplanes were engaging in mock dogfights with Greek planes «five to 10 times a day, and this is very dangerous.» He said he had the impression that the Turkish military was operating outside the control of the Turkish government.

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