Christofias supports Turkish Cypriot protests

April 18, 2011, Monday/ 17:23:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN WITH WIRES

Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias has expressed support for Turkish Cypriot protests against Turkey-backed austerity measures, saying the protests have shown that the Turkish Cypriots are truly concerned about their own existence.

The Turkish Cypriots have held three protests in recent months against the austerity measures, which resulted in cuts in salaries and pensions. The protests, organized by trade unions and backed by opposition parties, have strained relations between Turkey, the main financial supporter of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC), and the KKTC government as some banners in the demonstrations called on Turkey to “take its hands off” Cyprus and complained about the increasing number of immigrants to Turkish Cyprus from Turkey. The Turkish government, which sends several hundreds of millions of lira every year to support the Turkish Cypriot economy, slammed the protests and said participants were acting in coordination with the Greek Cypriots.

In remarks that appear to prove that right, Christofias, speaking at a press conference late on Friday, said protests sent economic as well as political messages and added that Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot administration are both well aware of what these messages mean. “To what extent this will be used to pressure them should concern us, too,” Christofias went on to say.

Claiming that the protests have shown that the Turkish Cypriots are truly “worried about their existence and not only for economic reasons,” Christofias said he was extending a “hand of friendship and cooperation” to the Turkish Cypriot community. “It is particularly important for them to know that the official Greek Cypriot leadership has the political will for a solution, that they can trust us and cooperate with us,” he said.

Christofias also said Turkey’s membership in the European Union hinged on progress towards reunifying Cyprus. “We do not wish to derail Turkey’s EU accession course, but it must be understood by all that this is not a blank check,” he said.

Christofias did not spell out how he might hold up the process if Turkey did not cooperate. But new countries cannot join the bloc without the approval of existing members. “For Turkey’s accession course to move forward, Turkey must … at long last assist in solving the Cyprus question and stop acting like an occupying power on European soil,” Christofias added.

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