Erdoğan presses hard line on Cyprus, pushes to reopen ghost town

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Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan insisted Tuesday on a two-state solution in Cyprus and threw his weight behind controversial plans for a partial reopening of a coastal resort emptied of its original Greek Cypriot residents, Agence France-Presse reported.

His uncompromising speech in the north of divided Nicosia marked another step towards opening up the ghost town of Varosha, in violation of UN resolutions and slammed as “unacceptable” by the European Union.

Speaking at a parade to mark the 47th anniversary of his country’s invasion that divided the Mediterranean island, Erdoğan said “we don’t have another 50 years to waste.”

He was referring to decades of failed UN-led efforts to reunite the Greek and Turkish Cypriot-controlled sectors of Cyprus.

“No progress can be made in negotiations without accepting that there are two peoples and two states with equal status,” he said.

He backed Turkish Cypriot plans to reopen part of Varosha, effectively handing over control from the Turkish military and changing the status quo, in defiance of UN resolutions.

“The doors of a new period that will benefit everyone will open in Varosha,” Erdoğan said.

Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar, who is close to Erdoğan and supports a two-state solution rather than the federation long sought in UN-led negotiations, said an initial 3.5 percent of Varosha would “be removed from its military status.”

Erdoğan said this showed “how sensitively Turkish Cypriot authorities approach this issue.”

But the European Union’s top diplomat Josep Borrell slammed any such move as “an unacceptable unilateral decision”.

EU resistance

To cheers from Turkish flag-waving supporters, Erdoğan accused the Greek Cypriots of “blocking any route to a solution” with a “maximalist approach… that is disconnected from the reality.”

He dismissed a warning this month from European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen that Brussels would “never accept” a two-state solution for Cyprus, an EU member since 2004.

In contrast to celebrations in the north, mournful sirens blasted across southern Nicosia at 5:30 am (0230 GMT) to mark the July 20, 1974 start of the invasion.

Turkish troops seized Cyprus’s northern third in response to an aborted coup in Nicosia aimed at attaching the country to Greece.

The island is now divided between the Greek Cypriot-run Republic of Cyprus and the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized only by Ankara.

“Life will restart in Varosha,” Erdoğan said on the second day of a visit to the north, renewing an offer of financial compensation for Greek Cypriots who lost properties in 1974.

‘Provocation without precedent’

Once a playground that hosted Hollywood celebrities, Varosha was for decades a derelict ghost town, fenced off by soldiers and kept as a bargaining chip in negotiations.

But the Turkish army restored public access to parts of its beachfront last year, weeks ahead of Tatar’s election.

The UN Security Council responded by calling for a reversal of the decision and “for the parties to avoid any unilateral action that could raise tensions on the island”

Erdoğan visited Varosha the following month in a move denounced by the Republic of Cyprus as a “provocation without precedent.”

Since then a major thoroughfare has been cleared and workers raced to spruce up the street ahead of a possible second visit.

Erdoğan insisted that moves to revive the town would respect property rights.

“We don’t have an eye on anyone’s land, rights or property, but nobody can touch the rights of Turkey or the KKTC,” he said.

The internationally recognized government in Nicosia has stressed that Varosha is a “red line”, and strongly condemned Erdoğan’s previous visit to northern Cyprus.

Russian Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov’s office on Tuesday “underscored its adherence to the strict implementation of the UN Security Council resolutions” in a phone call with Cyprus Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides, a statement in Moscow said.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias is due in Nicosia on Wednesday, hot on the heels of Erdoğan’s trip.

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