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Turks' anger as Greek Cypriots vote down reunification

HASAN Beydola, a Turkish Cypriot textile exporter on the verge of bankruptcy, was glum and angry yesterday, a day after Greek Cypriots sank a UN plan to reunify Cyprus, and with it hopes all Cypriots would enter the European Union together as equals.

Now, Beydola and other Turkish Cypriots are waiting to hear how the EU will keep its promise to reward them for supporting the UN plan.

Turkish Cypriots overwhelmingly voted "yes" and Greek Cypriots just as overwhelmingly voted "no" in twin referendums on Saturday. The UN reunification plan required agreement from both sides. With its defeat, all of Cyprus will enter the EU, but the union’s laws and benefits will apply only to the internationally recognised south.

A united Cyprus entering the European Union was Beydola’s hope - and the hope of many Turkish Cypriots. "I will be punished for voting yes for a plan supported by the EU," Beydola, 41, said yesterday. "And those who voted no will be rewarded. How is this fair?"

Had Cypriots approved the reunification plan that the EU helped the United Nations to draft, 259 million (176m) was to have flowed in to help the north, and mechanisms to start trade with Europe in the north were to be instituted. European Union foreign ministers open a two-day meeting in Luxembourg today to discuss measures, promised before the vote but never detailed, to help Turkish Cypriots. Some possibilities would be creating trade opportunities, lifting tariffs on farm products or funding infrastructure development. Lifting the trade embargo may prove difficult as it was the result of judgments by the European Court of Justice.

The UN plan envisioned a federation of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot states under a weak central government. The Turkish area would have been reduced from 37 percent of the island to 29 percent, requiring entire villages to be uprooted. The number of foreign troops - currently 40,000 Turks and 6,000 Greeks - would have been gradually reduced to a maximum of 6,000 by 2011 and 1,600 by 2018.

Greek Cypriots objected that the plan did not provide for the return to homes in the north of Greek Cypriots who fled south in 1974, allowed Turkish troops to stay too long and did not address their security fears.

Greek Cypriots say they still hope for reunification, but under a better deal, and that they bear Turkish Cypriots no ill will.

The Greek Cypriot president, Tassos Papadopoulos, said yesterday without elaboration that his government will make specific proposals to today’s meeting to "enable the Turkish Cypriots to enjoy as much as possible the benefits of their country’s accession to the EU".

"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," Mr Papadopoulos said.

Turkish leaders called on the EU to take concrete steps to reach out to Turkish Cypriots."It is an undeniable fact that the Turkish side was the active and constructive side for a Cyprus solution," Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, said yesterday. "I believe that the policy of isolating, of alienating (Turkish Cypriots) will now come to an end."

Chris Patten, the EU external relations commissioner yesterday accused Greek Cypriot leaders of betrayal after the collapse of the United Nations’ plan for reunifying the island.

The former Conservative Party chairman said the Greek Cypriots’ vote had created "a huge amount of political ill-will" in Brussels.

Mr Patten told BBC Radio 4’s The World this Weekend: "There has always been an implicit understanding that we would make Cypriot accession to the Union easier and in return the Greek Cypriot community and their political leadership would argue the case for a decent settlement to this long-running dispute.

"So I think we feel that we have, as it were, handed over the chocolate and they have refused to hand back the crisps."

Though many Turkish Cypriots sounded their horns and gathered in the Turkish side of divided Nicosia to celebrate their "yes" vote on 24 April, they’ve had a hard time believing that the outside world will welcome them now.

World sympathy has largely been with Greek Cypriots since 1974. "I don’t think anyone really cares about us Turkish Cypriots," said Beydola, in Kyrenia. "Greek Cypriots got what they wanted and they are entering the EU."

Hasan Cemal, a columnist for the Turkish daily Milliyet in Kyrenia, was more optimistic. "The embargoes on the Turkish Cypriots will be lifted eventually. The situation of Turkish Cypriots will get better with increased international involvement and aids," he said. "Turkish Cypriots can only have better tomorrows, since things cannot get worse than this."

 
 
 

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