Erdogan and Denktash in public clash

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Rauf Denktash clashed openly yesterday after Erdogan said that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan for Cyprus’s reunification was «negotiable» and that the Turkish-Cypriot leader should change his advisers. Denktash, who leads a breakaway state in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus, declared that he was the only person with the authority to make such changes. «I have ascertained that the esteemed Mr Erdogan would like to change the negotiator and his advisers,» Denktash told reporters. «Only I, as the president, have the right to name negotiators. Let the Turkish government name the negotiator that it wants so that I can appoint him. Let us see what the new man will achieve.» Late on Thursday, on a visit to Uzbekistan, Erdogan described Denktash’s rejection of the Annan plan as «a mistake.» The Anatolia news agency quoted him saying that the plan was «negotiable» and that among the issues discussed could be the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Cyprus. Erdogan also reportedly said that if the problem were solved by May 1, when Cyprus joins the EU, this would «free Turkey and the EU from a great problem.» He said Denktash «must reconsider his advisers,» adding that those he has now «will not bring a new approach.» He added, «If necessary, Ankara will find a way for a compromise.» The disagreement followed a deadlock in northern Cyprus after last Sunday’s elections, in which two parties in favor of a solution won an equal number of seats with two pro-Denktash parties. Ankara is expected to propose a solution next week. Mehmet Ali Talat, leader of the party that won the most votes, repeated yesterday that he would like to see Denktash replaced as the Turkish Cypriots’ negotiator. «We believe the negotiations should be conducted by the government. The issue of the negotiator will then be solved automatically,» he said. «That is why I find it logical not for Mr Denktash to change his advisers but for the whole team to change.» He said that the «government» of the breakaway state should play a part in preparing the plan Ankara is working on.