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Media Watch 2003

10 May 2003
Source: Cyprus Mail
Comment: The following article appeared in the Cyprus Mail of Nicosia on 10 May 2003.
Smiling Erdogan talks tough

TURKISH Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan yesterday kissed Greek Cypriot babies and chatted with motorists during a walkabout at the Ledra Palace checkpoint, but his PR offensive failed to mask the hard-line message he delivered after talks with Rauf Denktash.

Erdogan – in the occupied areas for a one-day visit – insisted there were “two states, two languages, two religions” in Cyprus, and that a solution could only be based on that “reality”.

And he said it was now the turn of the Greek Cypriot side to respond to the initiatives the Turkish side had launched in easing restrictions on the freedom of movement two weeks ago, calling for the ‘embargo’ against the occupied areas to be lifted.

“The time has come for the inhumane embargoes which have imprisoned the Turkish Cypriot people for the past 40 years to be once and for all lifted. The most urgent issue in Cyprus is this,” he said on arrival.

“We are in favour of speedily lifting all embargoes on both sides of the island – on Turks and Greeks,” Erdogan told reporters.

Erdogan said Ankara would allow Greek Cypriots to use nearby Turkish seaports and air corridors if Turkish Cypriots benefited from reciprocal measures.

“We will look positively at this if the embargoes are lifted. The problem of airports and seaports would then take care of itself and other things would follow,” Erdogan said.

The government, backed by the EU, denies there is any embargo, pointing to a European court decision barring trade of goods with certification from an unrecognised authority.

It was Erdogan’s first visit to Cyprus as prime minister, and he said he had chosen yesterday – Europe day – to underline Turkey’s European aspirations. The EU has warned Turkey its position as a candidate would be untenable from next May, when Cyprus formally joins the bloc, as it would be in occupation of an EU member state.

Erdogan failed to deliver on hopes his visit might herald more gestures to build on the opening of the checkpoints earlier this month, but the Turkish prime minister sought to soften the impact of his tough rhetoric by taking a stroll at the Ledra Palace.

Chatting to Greek Cypriot motorists waiting to be allowed over, kissing babies and shaking hands with UN peacekeepers, a smiling Erdogan said:

“I value the move to allow access to and from the north and I also value Denktash’s proposal on April 2 to open Varosha.”

The Turkish prime minister claimed Denktash has shown a constructive approach to jumpstarting the UN-led peace talks.

“We want this beautiful island to be an island of peace, we want the first quarter of the 21st century to be a benchmark for peace. Let our steps continue in order to make Cyprus an island of peace.”

Earlier, Erdogan had insisted there were “two states, two languages, two religions” in Cyprus, a fact that had to be accepted before there could be a settlement.

Speaking at occupied Lefkoniko airport on his arrival, Erdogan assured Turkish Cypriots that Turkey would always stand by their side.

“History has taught us that those who struggle succeed and make their own future,” he said.

Government Spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides said last night Erdogan’s statements had “confirmed the government’s belief that he fully sides with the positions of Denktash”.

“Plausible efforts were made to give the impression, internationally and in Cyprus, that Erdogan had a different and more flexible policy on the Cyprus problem than that of Denktash or the political and military establishment in Turkey. Once again, it is proved that this is just a political device,” Chrysostomides said.

Before leaving Ankara for the occupied areas, Erdogan had told reporters that the Cyprus problem was at a crucial stage and that Turkish measures aimed at building confidence between the two sides on the island would contribute to efforts to solve the Cyprus problem.

“Building a climate of trust between the two sides is important. We believe this will prepare the ground for a comprehensive settlement, based on the realities on the island”, Erdogan said."