NEWS

EU official slams Cypriot leader

Greek Cypriots yesterday got a taste of the isolation they will feel when their country joins the European Union on May 1 if they vote «no» against the UN reunification plan this Saturday, when the commissioner who helped ease Cyprus into the EU, Guenter Verheugen, told the European Parliament he felt «disappointed» and «cheated» by the Cypriot government. Verheugen’s blunt statement caused shock in Nicosia, where the government spokesman and President Tassos Papadopoulos’s personal spokesman denied the charge that he had distorted the provisions of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan. Verheugen and Annan’s special envoy, Alvaro de Soto, were not allowed on Greek-Cypriot television to present their arguments in favor of adoption of the plan. The UN Security Council, meanwhile, was locked in a diplomatic struggle as Britain (backed by the United States) tried to pass a resolution offering Cypriots assurances that key provisions of the Annan plan will be implemented. The failure to present such a guarantee could lead to the largest Greek-Cypriot party, the Communist AKEL, confirming that it will vote «no» in the referendum. Annan appealed to Cypriots to adopt his plan. «I hope they will really really think hard before they cast their vote. This is an opportunity I hope they will not miss,» he said. The UN Security Council «is willing to help on the peacekeeping and security front,» he added. «We’ve been at this for decades and I don’t think we’ve ever been this close… There’s a lot of support for a reunited Cyprus entering the European Union.» In the event of a rejection of his plan, Annan said: «The plan will be dead and my role will have ended.» A poll conducted among 568 Greek Cypriots for Greece’s Mega Channel television by the Opinion company on Tuesday found that 53 percent are thinking of definitely voting «no,» another 12 percent will probably do so while only 16 percent will definitely approve the plan and 11 percent might approve it. A week earlier, 62 percent had felt certain they would reject the plan and 16 percent probably would. «On the basis of the factors we have, it will be difficult for the ‘no’ to drop below 60 percent,» polling expert Ilias Nikolakopoulos said. Greek Cypriots in favor of a «yes,» who include former presidents Glafcos Clerides and George Vassiliou as well as the center-right Democratic Rally opposition party, held a rally in central Nicosia yesterday. They say that Papadopoulos’s «no» and the prevalence of his supporters in the news media have kept the benefits of the Annan plan from the people. A majority of Turkish Cypriots are in favor of the plan, and several of them were injured (three seriously) by rampaging members of the Turkish extreme nationalist Grey Wolves organization who back Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash in his rejection of it. In Strasbourg, Verheugen said: «I feel taken for a ride by the Greek-Cypriot government. I did everything to create the conditions allowing Greek Cypriots to accept the UN plan – apparently in vain.» He held out «little hope» for a «yes» vote and denounced the «surprising and troubling» attitude of the Cypriot government. «The least we could expect from a country that in 10 days will join the EU is that it will do all it can so that its people can be fully informed as to what the Annan plan is,» Verheugen said. «They prohibited me from doing this,» he added. «When in 1999 in Helsinki we said that the Cyprus problem would not be an obstacle to accession, the Greek-Cypriot side pledged that it would not hinder a solution to the problem,» he said. «I now call on Mr Papadopoulos to do whatever is necessary to abide by this commitment.»