NEWS

US urges Cypriots to back UN plan

As a US envoy urged Cypriots yesterday to vote in favor of a United Nations peace blueprint during a crucial April 21 referendum, thousands of refugees from the Turkish-occupied north rallied against the plan. Arriving on the island yesterday, US State Department envoy for Cyprus Thomas Weston said that anybody who votes against UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan «will put an incredibly heavy negative burden in terms of their decisions for the future of Cyprus.» He also promised generous US financial support for the island’s reunification. Weston is to meet with Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash at the start of a tour that will take in Athens and Ankara, as international pressure intensifies for a peace deal along the Annan blueprint before Cyprus joins the European Union on May 1. Papadopoulos and Denktash have already had five meetings in a new round of talks launched on February 19. However, there is no sign that any progress has been made. This is understood to have prompted Annan to send UN Deputy Secretary-General Sir Kieran Prendergast to Nicosia to join in the talks today. If Papadopoulos and Denktash fail to reach a deal, Annan will fill in the blanks himself and the ensuing document will be put to referendum on both sides of the ceasefire line on April 21. Polls have shown most Greek Cypriots oppose the deal. Yesterday, some 3,500 Greek Cypriots, mainly refugees from the Turkish-occupied town of Kyreneia, held a protest in Nicosia against the Annan plan. Bishop Paul of Kyreneia said the blueprint was «satanic, accursed and an abomination that will not work.» «We cannot remain silent against injustice and the gross violation of our basic human rights,» he said. Under the Annan plan, only half of the 200,000 refugees will be allowed back to their lost homes.