A U.N. plan to reunite Cyprus collapsed Saturday as Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly rejected it in a referendum. Turkish Cypriots voted heavily in favor.
The rejection of the plan, which had to be approved by both communities, means that only Greek Cypriots will enjoy the benefits when Cyprus joins the European Union on May 1.
With 96 percent of ballots counted in the Greek Cypriot south, official returns showed 76 percent voting against the plan and 24 percent approving it.
In the Turkish Cypriot north of the island, 64.9 percent of people voted “yes” and nearly 35.1 percent voted “no,” according to official results with all the votes counted.
European Commission expresses disappointment
The European Commission said it “deeply regrets that the Greek Cypriot community” rejected the plan.
“A unique opportunity to bring about a solution to the long-lasting Cyprus issue has been missed,” the commission said in a statement in Brussels.
The commission, the EU’s administration, said it wanted to “warmly congratulate Turkish Cypriots for their “yes” vote.” It added it would look at ways to promote their development.
Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots voted in separate referendums on whether to accept a plan by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that would reunify Cyprus after 30 years of division. The United States and other countries have pushed hard for acceptance of the plan ahead of Cyprus’ May 1 entry to the European Union.
Turnout was high in the south, where election officials put it at between 88 percent and 91 percent in all five voting districts. In the north, the turnout was 87 percent.
The plan envisaged a federation of two politically equal states, one for the 643,000 Greek Cypriots and one for the 180,000 Turks and Turkish Cypriots in the north, 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 and the homes to be returned to the original Greek Cypriot owners.
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.
During the campaign, Greek Cypriots complained that the plan limited the right of Greek Cypriot refugees to return to homes they fled after Turkey invaded the north of the island. They also objected to the plan’s allowing tens of thousands of settlers from Turkey to remain in north.
Most, but not all, Turkish Cypriots in favor
Many Turkish Cypriot supported the “yes” vote because they saw the plan as a path to greater prosperity and entry into the EU. Turkish Cyprus has been isolated for years. Legally, it can only trade with Turkey, the only country that recognizes it as a separate state.
Not all Turkish Cypriots favored the plan, however. Rauf Denktash, the leader of the breakaway north, said the plan amounted to the “extermination” of the Turkish Cypriots.
In its response to the vote Saturday, the European Commission said it would look at ways to ease the isolation of Turkish Cypriots. “The Commission is ready to consider ways of further promoting economic development of the northern part of Cyprus,” the statement said.