NEWS

Cyprus’s fate in citizens’ hands

The failure of negotiations aimed at reaching a deal that would help reunite Cyprus on the basis of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s blueprint means that it is now up to the people of Cyprus – the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots – to decide their island’s fate in separate referenda on April 24. If both sides vote yes, a united Cyprus will be able to join the EU a week later on May 1. If either side votes no, only the Greek Cypriots will join. But as the failure of the intensive talks in Buergenstock, Switzerland, sank in, it became clear that the leadership of the Greek Cypriots and the Greeks will have to take a clear stand on the issue ahead of the referenda. All sides came under intense pressure from the UN, the United States, the European Union and individual EU countries to reach agreement. The message of all was that a deal had to be reached now. President George W. Bush had a 10-minute telephone call with Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and stressed US interest in a solution to the Cyprus problem. British PM Tony Blair and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder also pushed for a deal. «Let us be clear,» Annan said at a ceremony closing the negotiations after midnight on Wednesday. «The choice is not between this settlement plan and some other magical, mythical solution. In reality, the choice is between this settlement and no settlement.» He added: «No one can be sure of what the future holds… But I am certain that my settlement plan offers the best and fairest chance of peace, prosperity and stability that is ever likely to be on offer.» In announcing the failure of the talks, Karamanlis said, «It is now up to the people of Cyprus to reach a decision and I hope they will do this with clear thought and vision.» President Tassos Papadopoulos, on his return to Cyprus, complained that the Greek Cypriots had not been offered what they were prepared to accept, «a dignified though painful compromise.» He added, «Unfortunately, the effort did not succeed because Turkey put forward 11 new demands regarding its own aims and these were met fully or partially.» He said that he and the Greek-Cypriot parties will present their proposals after fully evaluating the proposal in the next few days. «We will take a clear stand before the people who will be called on to vote in the referendum of April 24,» he said. Initial polls yesterday, however, suggested that more than 70 percent of Greek Cypriots would vote against the Annan plan. Former Greek Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis, in an interview with Mega Channel television, said the Annan plan was as good as anything the Greek side could expect. He called on Karamanlis and opposition leader George Papandreou to make clear their position during the parliamentary debate on the issue tonight. Karamanlis briefed President Costis Stephanopoulos on the talks yesterday. European Commissioner Guenter Verheugen, who attended the negotiations, told the European Parliament yesterday that the deal was «the best and most balanced solution that can possibly be achieved» for a united Cyprus before May 1. «The alternative is not this plan or another plan,» he said. «The alternative is this plan or nothing, no solution at all… I don’t think in the future we will have another opportunity to arrive at a solution to this issue.» Verheugen said that the Greek Cypriots’ concern over permanent exemptions being made to EU law to accommodate Turkish demands had been met. He said the Greek Cypriots will be restricted from buying property in the Turkish-Cypriot state «for a transition period of 15 years» or until Turkish Cypriots achieve 85 percent of the Greek-Cypriot per capita income. The Turkish side wanted permanent derogations. «The suggestions of the EU have been taken into account,» Verheugen said. «It’s a clear transition period, not a permanent derogation, that in my view will substantially change public opinion in the Greek-Cypriot community,» he added.