Turkish Cypriots march in protest against Turkish PM's statements

15:58, February 08, 2011      

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Turkish Cypriot trade unionists and members of left wing parties marched on Monday in northern Nicosia to protest Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's "belittling" statements.

They ignored warnings by Erdogan about possible prosecution for an earlier mass demonstration on Jan. 28, when tens of thousands of people protested an austerity package backed by Ankara cutting pensions and putting an end to a salary system related to the cost of living.

Erdogan had been incensed by demonstrators carrying large posters bearing the flag of the Cyprus Republic and slogans urging Turkey to "get its hands off the Turkish Cypriots."

Turkey sent troops to the eastern Mediterranean island in 1974, in response to a coup by Greek army officers. In 1983, the Turkish Cypriot authorities declared breakaway and set up "the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus," which is recognized only by Turkey.

Ankara also refuses to recognize the Republic of Cyprus, an internationally recognized state and a member of the European Union, which has led to obstacles in its bid to join the group.

Erdogan declared after last week's protests that Turkish Cypriots had been ungrateful to Turkey which "fed and maintained them."

He complained that those carrying the posters had been collaborating with Greek Cypriots and reminded Turkish Cypriots that Turkey has taken "strategic interests" in Cyprus.

"They take our money, and tell us to get lost," Erdogan was quoted as saying. He also called on the Turkish Cypriot leadership to prosecute those responsible for posting slogans against Turkey.

Several left-wing parties and trade unions were outraged by Erdogan's statements. They made up a joint platform and accused him of considering Turkish Cypriots as parasites.

They said Monday's march outside the Turkish embassy in the occupied part of Cyprus and the office of the "prime minister" of the breakaway enclave was only a symbolic one, to be followed by a mass demonstration soon, probably within a week.

Political analysts in Nicosia said the dispute is likely to escalate to a boiling point due to failing political efforts to find a solution to the Cyprus problem.

Turkish Cypriots are concerned about their diminishing numbers and importance as mainland Turkey settlers pour in. Their actual number is unclear, but Turkish Cypriot media have reported that they have become a majority at the expense of the indigenous population.

"The next clashes in Cyprus will probably be between Turkish Cypriots and Turkish settlers," said Takis Hadjigeorgiou, a member of the European Parliament.

He also said that Erdogan's high pitched tones could be probably explained by an effort to attract Turkish nationalist voters to obtain an increased majority in parliament in the next general elections.

Turkish Cypriots are frustrated by the fact that as Cypriot nationals they are nominally European citizens but are forced to live in isolation and economic stagnation.

In a bid to defuse the confrontation, former Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat on Monday went to Ankara and talked with Erdogan for an hour and a half.

Talat is closely associated with the main opposition Turkish Cypriot party, which played a leading role in the platform fighting Turkey's austerity package.

Source: Xinhua

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