NEWS

Referendum gets complicated

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday left open the possibility of postponing the referenda that are to be held by Greek and Turkish Cypriots on April 24, saying he would think about this if it were respected by all parties involved. But, at the same time that opposition to Annan’s blueprint for Cyprus’s reunification appeared to grow, Turkey and Turkish-Cypriot leaders rejected the possibility of a postponement in the vote while the Greek government, which has not taken a stand on the Annan plan itself, kept silent on this as well yesterday. On Saturday, in a surprise decision, Communist AKEL, the largest Greek-Cypriot party, which had voiced support for the plan, called for a postponement of the referenda, saying people needed more time to learn about it. With polls showing a majority of Greek Cypriots against the UN plan, AKEL’s stand seemed to seal its fate – especially after President Tassos Papadopoulos last week called for the plan’s rejection. On Monday, a UN spokeswoman said that the referenda would go ahead as planned. But yesterday Annan said: «There has be a suggestion by one of the parties that the referendum be postponed to give them more time to campaign, but this has not been taken up by the other parties who were in agreement. If the Greek and Turkish Cypriots, with the support of the governments of Turkey and Greece, were to ask for a postponement, that is something we will have to reflect on, but there has been no such request.» Annan’s plan for a loose bizonal, bicommunal federation has proved controversial among both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, as well as in Greece and Turkey. As things stand now, a majority of Greek Cypriots appear to oppose the plan, while most Turkish Cypriots approve of it. The Turkish government supports it but the military and nationalist groups are concerned by it. In Greece, the main opposition party, PASOK, supports the plan (albeit with loud objections from backbenchers) but the New Democracy government has not taken a stand, though emitting the message that it tends to favor it. Also, in parties on all sides there is disagreement. Today, Premier Costas Karamanlis will set out to the Inner Cabinet the pros and cons of Annan’s proposal. Tomorrow, President Costis Stephanopoulos will chair a meeting of Greece’s main political parties to discuss the plan. The Communist Party has already rejected it. The government says it will abide by what the Greek Cypriots decide. Today at 9.30 a.m., Karamanlis will meet with the Cypriot ambassador and at 10 a.m. with US Ambassador Thomas Miller. Yesterday, Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis briefed Karamanlis on developments in Cyprus and how other EU countries see the issue. On Cyprus, Mehmet Ali Talat, «prime minister» of the breakaway Turkish-Cypriot state, visited Greek-Cypriot parties yesterday and pushed for a «yes» vote in the referenda. He disagreed with AKEL’s postponement call. Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, who had proposed a postponement, yesterday retracted this. On the other side of the Green Line, Communications Minister Kikis Kazamias resigned, saying he disagreed with the Cypriot president’s policy. «It is not so much that the president said ‘no,’ but the way he arrived at his conclusions and the way he presented the plan during his address to the public last Wednesday,» he said. He was one of four AKEL members in the government. The party will decide its position at a national congress today, while the center-right Democratic Rally will decide tomorrow. But Greek-Cypriot attorney general Solon Nikitas attacked Annan’s plan, saying that «It is based fundamentally on the negation of human rights and goes as far as to write these off.»