NEWS

Athens, Nicosia ponder stance

Three weeks before two referenda in Cyprus will decide whether the 30-year division of the island is to end or be perpetuated, most political leaders were reserved on their position, pondering the consequences of the vote. Intense diplomatic activity is going to take place over the following weeks as the Greek and Cypriot governments coordinate their positions and as foreign powers weigh in in favor of a «yes» vote. On Tuesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Yiannis Valinakis will visit Cyprus to hold talks with President Tassos Papadopoulos. Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis will meet with US Ambassador to Greece Thomas Miller on Monday. Also on Monday, a high level delegation of the opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) will visit Cyprus. Voters in both the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus and the breakaway north, occupied by Turkish troops since 1974, will decide on a complex plan, drafted, and revised several times, by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Voters in the poorer north are, understandably, more willing to end the division, as this would allow them to join the rest of Cyprus which is entering the European Union on May 1. Still, according to polls, they are almost evenly divided. In the south, the polls show an overwhelming majority of likely «no» votes, but the polls also show that half the voters have not yet made up minds. Greek Cypriots, and many Greeks, feel that the Annan plan is unjust as, in a way, it legitimizes the Turkish invasion and occupation of the north, though the invasion was in response to a Greek-Cypriot coup, backed by the dictatorship then ruling Greece. There are also those who fear that the constitutional arrangements of the Annan plan will lead to an ungovernable state, much like the previous constitutional arrangements which established the Republic of Cyprus in 1960. Among Greek politicians, the prevailing opinion, mostly expressed indirectly, was that a negative vote would prevent the solution of the partition for a long time to come. «I would like to plead with (the Cypriot voters) not to include sentiment among the criteria they will use. Sentiment often leads to decisions missing their target,» Greek President Costis Stephanopoulos said yesterday. «If either the Greek or Turkish-Cypriot communities reject the plan, there will be no new initiative for a solution for a long time,» Molyviatis told Greek newspaper Eleftherotypia in an interview published yesterday. Greek opposition leader George Papandreou, without explicitly calling for a «yes» vote, also said that the Cypriot voters should look toward the future, not into the past. Nikos Constantopoulos, president of the Left Coalition Synaspismos, also indicated his preference for a «yes» vote in a television interview. Among Greek parties, only the Communist Party (KKE) has come out clearly against the Annan plan. In Cyprus, Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash on Saturday definitely rejected the plan as «unacceptable» and as «wrenching Cyprus away from Turkey.» Other Turkish-Cypriot politicians, such as Prime Minister Ali Mehmet Talat, have endorsed the plan, as has Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Among Greek Cypriot politicians, President Tassos Papadopoulos has criticized the plan but has reserved stating his position. On Saturday, he announced that he will address the people on Wednesday. The main government coalition partner, the communist AKEL, will decide by April 14, leader Dimitris Christofias has said. Democratic Rally, the party of former President Glafcos Clerides, appears also to favor a «yes» vote. Party officials have made contradictory statements over the past few days. The coalition parties will hold a meeting today.