NEWS

Turkish Cypriots rally for peace

NICOSIA (AFP) – Waving olive branches and the flags of a would-be united Cyprus, thousands of Turkish Cypriots demonstrated for peace yesterday, calling on Greek neighbors to vote «yes» in a referendum on the divided island’s future. The two rival communities will vote simultaneously on April 24 on a UN settlement plan aimed at ending the island’s three-decade-old partition before it joins the European Union on May 1. «Settlement and EU – yes, yes, yes,» «Peace cannot be prevented in Cyprus,» «Yes for our children’s future,» «We need a double yes for peace,» read banners carried by the demonstrators, who also wore T-shirts and caps bearing the word «Yes.» Participants waved the flags of the EU and some brandished the blue-yellow-and-red striped flags which will become the new symbol of united Cyprus if the UN settlement plan is endorsed. Public servants held a half-day strike to join in the demonstration held in a central square in the northern sector of the divided capital Nicosia. Opinion polls suggest that the breakaway Turkish Cypriots, increasingly frustrated over their international isolation and economic woes, will vote «yes» in the referendum. The internationally recognized Greek Cypriots, meanwhile, are expected to reject the plan, according to the surveys. The Greek-Cypriot south has been promised EU membership regardless of whether a reunification deal is reached with the Turkish-Cypriot north. The absence of a settlement, however, threatens to deepen the island’s partition as the Turkish Cypriots will then be denied entry into the EU. «The way to peace in our country goes through a double ‘yes.’ The dove of peace cannot fly with a single wing… We call on all Cypriots, both in the north and the south, to do everything for a ‘yes’ in the referendum,» Ali Gulle, a trade union leader, said in a speech at yesterday’s demonstration. «We are here for peace, for a settlement and EU membership, but before all we are here to call on the Greek Cypriots to say ‘yes,’» said Huri Yuksel, a 22-year-old student. The demonstrators also shouted slogans calling on their hardline leader Rauf Denktash to resign as president of their self-styled statelet. Denktash is campaigning for a «no» vote in the referendum, in contrast to his pro-settlement prime minister, Mehmet Ali Talat. Turkey, which maintains some 30,000 troops in the north, has also lent its support to the settlement plan in the hope of boosting its own aspirations of joining the EU. Yesterday, it reiterated its opposition to postponing the referendum, saying it flew in the face of the settlement plan by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. «To speak about a postponement is contrary to the core, framework and parameters of the Annan plan,» Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Namik Tan told a news conference in Ankara.