NEWS

Hope fading for Cyprus deal

LARNACA (AFP) – Cypriot Foreign Minister Giorgos Lillikas voiced pessimism yesterday that last-ditch talks in Finland with Turkey would avert an EU crisis with Ankara over the Cyprus issue. «Nobody can prejudge the outcome but, as I said, in the past few days the information we have received from various sources is such that it doesn’t permit us to be optimistic,» he told reporters before leaving for Finland. «We are fully prepared, and with a spirit of good will and good intentions our aim is to reach some sort of agreement, if there is a willingness on the Turkish side,» he added at Larnaca Airport. Lillikas departed for Tampere, southern Finland, where foreign ministers Abdullah Gul of Turkey and Finland’s Erkki Tuomioja are to meet today on the margins of a European-Mediterranean ministerial session. The showdown with the European Union’s Finnish presidency aims at reaching a compromise deal to smooth over Ankara’s rocky accession path. Under an EU customs union agreement, Turkey must open its ports and airports to Cyprus. Finland, which holds the EU presidency until the end of the year, has been trying to resolve the stalemate since September. The [Finnish] proposal envisages opening up Famagusta port under EU control while at the same time returning the nearby fenced-off city of Varosha to its original Greek-Cypriot residents. Ankara has refused to consider the Varosha handover proposal. However, Lillikas said the Finnish proposal had not changed and no new aspects would be included. «The Finnish presidency has made it clear to us officially, and in negotiations, that it will not accept new elements in the package it presented,» the Cypriot foreign minister said.