Nicosia criticizes ex-president for going to the north

NICOSIA (AFP) – The Cyprus government criticized former president Glafcos Clerides yesterday for breaking with Greek-Cypriot policy by visiting Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat in the so-called «presidential palace» in the Turkish-occupied north. Thursday’s Clerides-Talat dinner date was billed as a warm gesture of friendship between the divided communities. However, the Cyprus government viewed it as more a hindrance than an icebreaker. «I think this will make it difficult for our side,» Foreign Minister George Iacovou told reporters. «Although Mr Clerides is a private citizen, he is also a former president and I would have preferred it if he did not honor Mr Talat at his so-called presidential palace.» Clerides, who was a staunch supporter of a UN reunification plan rejected by his own community in a referendum just over two years ago, made his first visit across the UN buffer zone bisecting the island since December 2001. «It was a good opportunity for two Cypriots to come together to talk generally and see how friendly we can be if we try to talk to each other rather than look at each other,» Clerides told reporters after his dinner with Talat. «We both love Cyprus,» he said. «We both want to live in peace with each other.» Talat described the dinner as merely a «social gathering,» but expressed hope that «this kind of event will help improve our relations.» It was Clerides’s last visit four-and-a-half years ago that led to the UN-sponsored peace talks between the two communities which culminated in the abortive referendum of April 2004. His successor Tassos Papadopoulos opposes the UN’s 2004 plan and led the campaign to reject it at the ballot box. The venue for the dinner in the breakaway Turkish-Cypriot state in the island’s north, which is recognized only by Ankara, was viewed as controversial among Greek Cypriots. Even when two-time president Clerides held talks with then Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash in 2001, he did so not in the «presidential palace» but in Denktash’s nearby residence. In March, Papadopoulos snubbed then British foreign secretary Jack Straw when he signaled he would meet Talat at his «presidential office.» Ever since Turkish-Cypriot leaders declared their illegal state in 1983, the internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot government has had a policy of denying it any trappings of legitimacy.