Cyprus girds for ‘battle’

NICOSIA – President Glafcos Clerides accused Turkey yesterday of resorting to «threats and blackmail» to block Cyprus’s expected accession to the European Union by the end of the year. He told his nation in a televised address on the eve of its 42nd anniversary of independence that Cyprus was passing through the most critical phase of its history since 1974, when Turkish troops occupied the northern third of the island. «We are preparing to meet any eventuality,» Clerides said referring to Turkish threats to annex the Turkish-occupied north if Cyprus joins the EU. «We are continuing silently to strengthen our defenses in the framework of the joint defense pact with Greece,» he said, adding the coming months will be «the most important diplomatic battle of the past 28 years – a battle that will determine the future of this country.» In Ankara, Turkey deepened cooperation with Turkish Cypriots, allowing the latter to take up Turkish nationality and forming a joint parliamentary committee to look into «integration.» «These… regulations will help deepen the existing cooperation and solidarity between the two countries,» Turkey’s Foreign Minister Sukru Sina Gurel said at a signing ceremony. Clerides leaves today for New York for a meeting with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash in an effort to break the deadlock in the UN-sponsored reunification talks. Progress has been blocked by insistence by Denktash, who is backed by Ankara, on the recognition of his statelet as a first step toward reunification as a confederation of two independent states. The Security Council has called for a single state with one Greek and one Turkish-Cypriot federal region. «We are seeking a just and viable settlement that will conform to international law, Security Council resolutions, international human rights treaties and the relevant judgments of the European Court of Human Rights,» Clerides said. «My greatest ambition is to see the Cyprus problem solved and Cyprus a member of the EU.» [In Athens, Prime Minister Costas Simitis assured a delegation of Turkish businessmen that Athens supported Ankara’s bid to join the EU but added that Turkey had to take important steps to meet candidacy criteria.]