NEWS

Greek leaders debate Cyprus

Greece’s political party leaders will be meeting at 11 a.m. today to discuss UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s proposal for Cyprus’s reunification in the light of the referenda that Greek and Turkish Cypriots will hold on April 24. The meeting will be chaired by President Costis Stephanopoulos at the Presidential Palace. The last time such a gathering of political party leaders took place was 12 years ago (on June 14, 1992), when the leaders of Greece’s parties, by a majority vote, decided that Greece would not recognize its northern neighbor if its name included the word «Macedonia.» The issue has still not been resolved. On Cyprus yesterday, tens of thousands of Turkish Cypriots staged a demonstration in the Turkish-occupied part of Nicosia, calling for a «yes» vote in the referendum and urging the largest Greek-Cypriot party, AKEL, to support the plan. The Communist AKEL has always been in favor of a solution to the Cyprus problem and appeared to be heading for a «yes» but balked last weekend and decided to call for a postponement of the referenda, so as to have time to campaign for a «yes,» otherwise, it said, people should vote «no.» Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos’s call last week for a «resounding ‘no’» and AKEL’s wavering have created a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to approval of Annan’s plan. A poll among Greek Cypriots made public yesterday suggested that 62 percent would definitely reject the plan, while another 16 percent would probably reject it. «It is obvious that the pertaining climate could not change by the day of the referendum, even if AKEL supported a ‘yes’ vote,» AKEL leader Dimitris Christofias told his party’s national congress yesterday. A vote was expected later. The conservative government in Athens has not announced a verdict on the Annan plan, although it has leaked suggestions that Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis tends to support it. The opposition PASOK party has said «yes» (albeit it with objections within the party), the Communist Party has said «no» and Synaspismos Left Coalition has echoed the Cypriot AKEL party’s call for a postponement of the referendum on the Greek-Cypriot side. Party leader Nikos Constantopoulos said yesterday that although the Annan plan presented problems, «it achieves the island’s reunification on the basis of the possibility of the communities’ coexistence.» Neither Nicosia, Athens nor Ankara has called for a postponement, although Greece said that it would agree to this if the others did. Turkey has rejected a postponement. Yesterday, Karamanlis chaired a meeting of his Inner Cabinet which discussed, among other things, today’s meeting. «Mr Karamanlis will announce his decisions, as he has promised Parliament, after hearing the opinions of everyone on the Annan plan,» government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said yesterday. Karamanlis, however, is expected to talk about the plan while repeating that it is the Cypriots who must decide. Informed sources said he will stick to a neutral position. Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis briefed the Inner Cabinet on the pros and cons of the plan. Earlier, Karamanlis met separately with the ambassadors of Cyprus and the US. «We’ve said a tremendous amount from the State Department podium on the Annan plan, which we think is very, very good, and I think I’ll leave it at that,» US Ambassador Thomas Miller told reporters afterward. President George W. Bush has discussed Cyprus in five telephone calls with Karamanlis and Secretary of State Colin Powell has telephoned various officials in recent days, including Molyviatis.