NEWS

Cyprus reunification hopes dim

Campaigning ahead of tomorrow’s referenda among Greek and Turkish Cypriots ended at midnight last night, with President Tassos Papadopoulos and veteran Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash both calling on their people to reject UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan for the island’s reunification. The difference between the two was that the Greek Cypriots seemed set to heed their leader’s call while Turkish Cypriots were expected to accept Annan’s proposal. A desperate last-gasp effort by the international community to provide Greek Cypriots with guarantees failed when Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that had been accepted by the Council’s 14 other members. The result was that the largest Greek-Cypriot party, the Communist AKEL, said it was not satisfied with the guarantees and advised its supporters to vote «no» in tomorrow’s referendum. This would appear to decide the Annan plan’s fate, because AKEL’s decision, after much wavering, suggested that the strong majority rejecting the plan would not change. Forecasts in Nicosia yesterday were for a «no» vote between 60 and 70 percent. AKEL leader Dimitris Christofias, however, said that his party continued to support the Annan plan. «AKEL’s ‘no’ is not like the ‘no’ of others, because our party’s ‘no’ leads to a postponement so as to prevent destroying the solution during its implementation.» He argued that a «weak yes» would create problems down the road. Annan has said that if there is no agreement now, his plan will no longer be on the table. Also, US and EU officials have said that it will be a long time before anyone tries to solve the Cyprus problem again. If the Greek Cypriots say «no» and the Turkish Cypriots accept the plan, only Greek Cypriots will enjoy the benefits of the island’s EU accession on May 1. This has prompted EU and US officials to say they will do something to help the Turkish Cypriots, who have been in international isolation since Turkey invaded the island and occupied its north in 1974. Nikos Anastassiadis, leader of the center-right Democratic Rally opposition party, issued his last call for the Annan plan’s acceptance yesterday. «It is time for us to make historical decisions, the decisions that will reunify our country and make Apostolos Andreas and Keryneia the borders of Europe and of Cyprus once again,» he said, referring to a monastery and town that are in the Turkish-occupied part of the island. Anastassiadis urged his compatriots to make «the brave decision which opens the way to Cyprus’s reunification and the decisive prevention of division and Cyprus’s total domination by Turkey.» The government of Cyprus, whose foreign minister was in Cyprus earlier this week, welcomed Russia’s stunning veto of the Security Council resolution, saying Russia did not want to influence the outcome of the referendum. Denktash was even more direct. «God bless Russia, which has saved us from catastrophe,» he said. He added that Russia «has shown that the immoral pressures that were put on both sides for months with regard to the referenda are unacceptable.» Former President George Vassiliou commented that Russia performed a favor to Cyprus because of traditional friendship between the two countries, adding that if the government had asked Moscow to approve the resolution or make changes it would have done so. Greek Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis met the Russian ambassador yesterday and will meet with those of the United States and Britain today.