‘No’ vote keeps Cyprus divided

Greek Cypriots on Saturday voted overwhelmingly to reject the UN plan for their island’s reunification, while a large majority of Turkish Cypriots cast their ballots in favor of the plan. The Greek-Cypriot rejection, by 75.83 percent against the 24.17 percent who voted «yes,» means that only Greek Cypriots will enjoy the benefits of EU membership when Cyprus joins the union on Saturday. Turkish Cypriots, who voted by 64.9 percent in favor of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan, are expected to benefit from some assistance from the European Union but will not be full members of the bloc. Nicosia and Athens are contemplating the day after the two referenda – and the disappointment expressed by the United Nations, the European Union and the United States. Today’s meeting of EU foreign ministers in the General Affairs Council at Luxembourg is likely to reveal what concrete steps the bloc might take to ease the isolation of Turkish Cypriots, whose breakaway state only Turkey recognizes and which has been under a stifling trade embargo. Ankara has already demanded an end to the embargo and recognition of the Turkish-Cypriot state, something the Greek side had successfully prevented since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. Reports in Greek media yesterday suggested Britain was circulating a draft proposal for the EU to send aid to the Turkish Cypriots while bypassing the government of President Tassos Papadopoulos – who led the campaign for a «no» vote. The Council could also declare that all ports of the occupied part of Cyprus could be used by goods and people (tourists) and could issue a statement criticizing Greek Cypriots for rejecting the UN plan and praising Turkish Cypriots for accepting it. Papadopoulos, understanding the uphill battle his side will face, tried to pre-empt EU decisions yesterday. «The Greek Cypriots are not turning their backs on their Turkish-Cypriot compatriots. On the contrary, we shall work for a solution that will meet the hopes and aspirations of both communities,» he told foreign journalists yesterday. He said that in Luxembourg today, his government will propose ways to ease Turkish Cypriots’ isolation. He did not elaborate but said this should not constitute recognition of the breakaway state. In one of the strangest twists in the tale, the veteran Turkish-Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, who has held out against a deal such as that proposed by Annan for the past 30 years, refused to resign as «president.» He had campaigned against a «yes» vote and now that the Turkish Cypriots are to enjoy the benefits that will come from ignoring his pleas and threats, he said yesterday he had campaigned against the Annan plan and had succeeded. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, «It is an undeniable fact that the Turkish side was the active and constructive one for a Cyprus solution… I believe that the policy of isolation (of Turkish Cypriots) will now come to an end.» In Athens, government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said Greece would respect the decision taken by the Cypriots. «In a few days, a new era begins. Cyprus will join the EU formally and start its European course as a full member. In the EU context, it will be to the benefit of all if the effort to bring Greek and Turkish Cypriots together continues,» he said. «The Greek government repeats that it will remain where it always has, at Cyprus’s side, offering support and solidarity. Together with the Republic of Cyprus, we will face the new circumstances and try to keep open the process for a finding a definitive solution to the political problem of Cyprus.»

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