Tens of thousands of Turkish Cypriots demonstrated on their side of the divided capital Wednesday in support of a U.N. plan to reunify the island and pave the way for its entry to the European Union.
On the Greek side, Dimitris Christofias, who heads the largest Greek Cypriot political party, the communist AKEL, urged 1,200 party delegates to approve a special party congress to back the U.N. plan.
The plan is opposed by many Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders, and Christofias repeated an appeal to postpone separate referendum on the plan, saying a delay would give proponents time to explain its advantages. The votes are slated to take place on April 24.
Recent opinion polls indicate 70 percent of Greek Cypriots oppose the plan, while 60 percent of Turkish Cypriots approve it.
‘Yes to the referendum, yes for peace!'
If approved, the unified island would enter the EU on May 1. Pressure from the United States and European Union to approve the plan has been mounting on the two Cypriot sides and Greece and Turkey.
“Yes to the referendum, yes for peace!,” Turkish Cypriot demonstrators chanted as they waved olive branches and EU flags.
Police did not immediately provide an estimate of the crowd, but organizers said more than 40,000 people attended, or one-fifth of the north’s population.
In comparison, the AKEL party meeting was a somber affair — a clear reflection of the fact that most Greek Cypriots think the U.N. plan favors the Turkish side.
Christofias said postponing the referenda was necessary “to allow a reasonable debate on the pros and cons of the plan which is not possible now.”
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who devised the plan, said Tuesday that he would agree to a postponement if requested by Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders, and Greece and Turkey. But Turkish Cypriot and Turkish officials have said the referenda should go ahead as planned.
The plan envisages a federal state of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot zones linked through a weak central government.
Greek Cypriots object to the plan because it limits the right of Greek Cypriot refugees to return to homes on the Turkish side abandoned following the 1974 Turkish invasion.
However, Turks who have settled in Cyprus over the last three decades would be allowed to remain.
Despite his support for the proposal, Christofias said the plan ignored legitimate Greek Cypriot concerns. “This has fed the well-orchestrated campaign for the rejection of the plan, which has inflamed public opinion and tarnishes the plan,” he said.
Cyrpus was split in two following the Turkish invasion, which was sparked by a short-lived coup by supporters of union with Greece. But the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state is only recognized by Turkey, which keeps some 40,000 troops there.