NEWS

UN, US stick to plan, schedule

The United Nations yesterday appeared to reject an appeal by AKEL, the largest Greek-Cypriot political party, for a postponement of the referenda scheduled for April 24, saying they would go ahead as planned. Washington made clear that Cypriots should not hope for a plan to follow this one. «It is the only plan,» State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. «It is the final plan. There has been speculation among Cypriots that there could be other alternatives to this plan. In our view there are no options… It is this settlement or no settlement.» President Costis Stephanopoulos is to chair a rare meeting of Greece’s political party leaders on Thursday, to discuss UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s blueprint for Cyprus’s reunification and their positions with regard to the referenda that Greek and Turkish Cypriots are due to hold on April 24. US President George W. Bush called Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis yesterday and they had a «constructive» discussion on the Cyprus issue, Athens’s Skai radio reported, citing sources. Greece’s opposition PASOK party has spoken in favor of the Annan plan and called for a «yes» vote in the referenda that are aimed at having a united Cyprus join the EU on May 1. Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos has called on his Greek Cypriots to issue a «resounding ‘no.’» Karamanlis’s government has not taken a stand, although sources close to the prime minister say he is tending toward a «yes» because he believes the Annan plan offers a logical compromise and Karamanlis does not want to strain ties with Turkey and Greece’s major allies. But the decision by AKEL’s central committee on Saturday, after a two-day meeting, to call for the referenda to be postponed so citizens could be better informed and so improvements could be made to the Annan plan, appeared to dash any hopes of a «yes» vote among Greek Cypriots, whom polls show as being overwhelmingly opposed to the plan. Most Turkish Cypriots are in favor of the plan, despite its vehement rejection by their veteran leader, Rauf Denktash. The «prime minister» of the breakaway Turkish-Cypriot state, Mehmet Ali Talat, is campaigning for a «yes» vote, with the support of Ankara. He criticized AKEL’s proposal, as did the leader of the second-largest Greek-Cypriot party, Democratic Rally’s (DISY) Nikos Anastasiades. If AKEL had found out that a postponement was feasible, he said, then his party too would support this. «But if this cannot be accepted then it would have been more honest for AKEL to have said ‘no’ from the start,» he said. DISY, which has expressed support for the plan, is to take a final decision at a national congress on Thursday, a day after AKEL’s proposal will be finalized by its own national congress. Complicating things further, DISY’s first vice president, Lefteris Christoforou, yesterday called for the plan’s rejection. Greek news reports said the UN might consider AKEL’s request for a brief delay in the vote but no changes to the plan. But Annan’s associate spokeswoman, Marie Okabe, said: «We have been informed by AKEL of their position. We continue to follow this and other developments. It was agreed on February 13 that referenda should be held in advance of May 1.» Asked if they would be held as planned, she said: «This is all I have for now. Yes.» Cyprus’s defense minister, Koulis Mavronikolas, confirmed press reports on Saturday, saying Turkey had sent thousands more soldiers and new weapons to Cyprus. If this turned out to be the reinforcement of occupation troops and not their rotation, Cyprus would complain to international organizations, he said.