What Turkey and EU’s conflicting visions mean for Cyprus’ future

Erdogan’s appearance at a military parade on July 20 in the northern part of the capital, Nicosia, might have passed off without incident had he not reiterated his contentious position on the Cyprus dispute. (AFP)
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Erdogan’s appearance at a military parade on July 20 in the northern part of the capital, Nicosia, might have passed off without incident had he not reiterated his contentious position on the Cyprus dispute. (AFP)
Tourists are evacuated from Cyprus with British Army truks in Nicosia, on July 27, 1974. (AFP/File Photo)
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Tourists are evacuated from Cyprus with British Army truks in Nicosia, on July 27, 1974. (AFP/File Photo)
A dated file photo in 1974 shows Greek Cypriot soldiers taken priosners of war by Turkish soldiers who invaded Cyprus following an ethnic bloodshed that erupted in the mediteranean island. (AFP/File Photo)
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A dated file photo in 1974 shows Greek Cypriot soldiers taken priosners of war by Turkish soldiers who invaded Cyprus following an ethnic bloodshed that erupted in the mediteranean island. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 01 August 2021

What Turkey and EU’s conflicting visions mean for Cyprus’ future

Erdogan’s appearance at a military parade on July 20 in the northern part of the capital, Nicosia, might have passed off without incident had he not reiterated his contentious position on the Cyprus dispute. (AFP)
  • Turkish President Erdogan repeated his demand for a two-state solution during a recent visit to the northern part of Cyprus
  • UN Security Council responded by condemning “the further reopening of a part of the fenced-off area” of derelict Varosha town

ANKARA/DUBAI: Europe’s longest “frozen conflict” is once again in the spotlight following a visit to the northern part of Cyprus by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during which he repeated his demand for a two-state solution and backed moves to rebuild a ghost town that lies within the island’s military buffer zone.

Erdogan’s appearance at a military parade on July 20 in the northern part of the capital, Nicosia, might have passed off without further ado had he not reiterated his contentious position on the Cyprus dispute with remarks that were echoed and elaborated on by his ally, Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar.

If the past is any guide, the Cyprus imbroglio defies ready solution, be it reunification or partition.

Attempts to resolve the conflict suffered a blow in 2004 when Greek Cypriots voted against a UN proposal to reunite the Turkish and Greek sides of the nation, while Turkish Cypriots approved it. Three out of four Greek Cypriots rejected the plan put forward by Kofi Annan, the UN chief, that would have given tens of thousands of Cypriots the right to return to homes they lost in 1974.

The year 1974 was a watershed in the history of Cyprus: Turkish troops occupied the northern third of the country in response to an abortive coup engineered by a Greek military junta that aimed to unite the island with Greece.

As for the ghost town undergoing a controversial reopening with the blessing of Erdogan, it is Varosha, a suburb of Famagusta, once the Mediterranean island’s top coastal resort whose Greek Cypriot population fled with the Turkish invasion.

Budding hopes of a UN-sponsored settlement in the aftermath of the invasion had been nipped by the unilateral establishment in 1983 of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Turkey. While Cyprus has been largely at peace since the de-facto partition of 1974, the “frozen conflict” has proved so intractable, it has come to be known as the “graveyard of diplomats.”

Now, in addition to playing the nationalist card to humor their domestic constituencies, Erdogan and the Turkish Cypriot leadership may well be signaling their loss of faith in time and negotiations to bring the breakaway north’s international isolation and decades-old economic embargo to an end.

For a start, they intend to convert part of Varosha into a resettlement site and to allow people to reclaim properties vacated during the 1974 invasion. In November 2020, Turkish Cypriot authorities reopened a small area of Varosha. Now Erdogan says “a new era will begin in Maras (the Turkish name for Varosha) which will benefit everyone.”

During his latest visit to the northern part of Nicosia, Erdogan, who as Turkey’s prime minister in 2004 had backed the Annan reunification plan, asserted that Ankara does not have “another 50 years to waste.”

On Wednesday, in a video address to members of his AK Party, he said: “We will make every possible effort to ensure recognition of the Turkish Cypriot state as soon as possible. All other offers and proposals are not valid anymore.”




Erdogan vowed to make no "concession" as he pressed for a two-state solution for Cyprus, during a visit to the divided eastern Mediterranean island. (AFP)

Tatar got down to the nitty-gritty of the regeneration plans, saying that an initial 3.5 percent of Varosha, whose abandoned hotels, residences and shops lie under Turkish control, would be removed from its military status.

An earlier version of the buffer zone where Varosha is situated was created in 1964 by a UN peacekeeping force in response to a spate of inter-communal violence. Following the 1974 Turkish invasion, this so-called Green Line became the de-facto line of partition.

While an estimated 165,000 Greek Cypriots fled south, about 45,000 Turkish Cypriots relocated to the north, where they established their own independent administration. Despite a unanimous UN Security Council resolution, Turkey refused to withdraw its troops from Cyprus.

According to the UN resolutions, Varosha should be handed over to UN administration and the town’s vacant properties should be returned to their legal owners. In a statement on Friday, the Security Council condemned “the further reopening of a part of the fenced-off area of Varosha” and expressed “deep regret regarding these unilateral actions.”

THENUMBER

* 1,281,506 - Current total population of Cyprus.

Some analysts think Erdogan’s rhetoric is designed to encourage Greek Cypriots to deal with the Turkish side on an equal footing.

Ahmet Sozen, professor of political science and international relations at Eastern Mediterranean University in Northern Cyprus, says the pressure tactics might push Greek Cypriots to enter into negotiations, albeit gradually.

“This is a game-changing move. It is just a beginning, because Greek Cypriots do not welcome it,” he told Arab News, “But, at the end of the day, there are 300 individual claims by Greek Cypriots to their properties in this area and it should encourage the Greek side to negotiate with the Turkish side over these property rights.”

Sozen believes Turkey intends to use the Varosha issue to launch future rounds of negotiation with a stronger hand with the goal of achieving a two-state solution.

“This move also aims to prevent thousands of applications to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg by those who claim their property rights in Varosha. By opening a part of the military zone to civilian use, it will give Turkish Cyprus’ Immovable Property Commission (IPC) the authority to deal with the compensation issue,” he said.

The IPC is the only Turkish Cypriot institution recognized by the ECHR, which dropped several applications lodged by displaced Greek Cypriots after it was established for redressal of such grievances. If Varosha is partially returned to civilian use, the IPC will likely be in charge of resolving property issues.




People cross the Ledras crossing point in the Cypriot capital Nicosia from the southern part towards the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC), on June 4, 2021, as the country opens its crossing points following the easing of restriction in the divided island amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP)

But as the Security Council condemnation demonstrates, Turkey is facing strong pushback from NATO allies, EU members and even the UN. Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, who discussed the developments with his Greek Cypriot counterpart, Nikos Christodoulides, has called the Varosha move “unacceptable and inconsistent” with UN resolutions.

A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply concerned” and appealed to “all parties to refrain from unilateral actions that provoke tensions.”

Nicos Anastasiades, the president of Cyprus, described any moves to open up Varosha as “illegal and unacceptable.” If Turkey’s real concern was returning properties to their legal owners, “they should have adopted UN resolutions and handed the city over to the UN, allowing them to return in conditions of safety,” he said.

Dimitris Tsarouhas, an expert at Bilkent University, in Ankara, describes the new approach to the Varosha issue as “strange although not unexpected,” since it is “not really a Turkish Cypriot decision but a Turkish one.”




Derelict hotels, restaurants, and residential buildings remain abandoned at the fenced-off beachfront eastern town of Varosha, in the Turkish-held north of the divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus, on October 14, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

“The enclave had been abandoned by its Greek Cypriot owners in 1974 and they have lived in hope of returning ever since, not least because Turkey did not send in settlers,” he told Arab News.

“I am guessing that this small reopening aims at enticing Greek Cypriots to move back in, or at least to claim their property through the Turkish Cypriot authorities, thus partially legitimizing the TRNC.”

Noting that the EU and the US “both have been explicit in condemning a move contradicting decades of UN work on Cyprus,” Tsarouhas said: “It seems to me that Erdogan’s goal is to consolidate the nationalist coalition at home and show to the world that he really means the two-state policy he proposed for the first time a few years back.”

Once famous as a playground of Hollywood celebrities, Varosha may yet rise from the ruins of war. But for now, its new lease of life is mainly as a bargaining chip in a geopolitical game.


COVID-19 llama treatment shows positive signs

COVID-19 llama treatment shows positive signs
Updated 18 sec ago

COVID-19 llama treatment shows positive signs

COVID-19 llama treatment shows positive signs
  • Spray uses “nanobodies” produced by llamas, camels when they get an infection
  • Immunologist: “It’s very promising” and “exciting”

LONDON: A treatment derived from a llama has shown great promise in the fight against COVID-19. 

The product is a treatment made of “nanobodies,” which are simpler versions of antibodies, produced by llamas and camels when they get an infection.

Scientists have said it could be transformed into a simple nasal spray to treat early COVID-19 infection.

Prof. James Naismith described nanobodies as “fantastically exciting,” saying COVID-19-infected rodents treated with the spray had totally recovered within six days.

Public Health England has said it is looking at the “most effective SARS-CoV-2 neutralising agents” it has ever tested, and it could be used in human tests soon. 

The virus-specific nanobodies can attach to viruses and bacteria that invade the human body. It acts as a form of warning, allowing the rest of the body’s immune system to prepare to destroy the nascent infection. 

These nanobodies found by the UK researchers in llamas were shown to bind particularly tightly. “That’s where we had some help from Fifi the llama,” said Naismith.

Fifi was vaccinated with a tiny, non-infectious piece of the viral protein. The researchers then recovered and isolated the strongest nanobodies in a sample of the llama’s blood. 

From the sample of the potent nanobodies, the researchers were able to grow large quantities of its best molecules.

Prof. Sheena Cruickshank, an immunologist from the University of Manchester, said the new development is “exciting but still quite early.”

She added: “We need more data on efficacy and safety before we move to human trials. However it’s very promising nonetheless, and the fact it may be cheaper and easier to administer is a plus.

“COVID-19 will be, unfortunately, with us for a while yet, so more treatments will be needed.”

Naismith said: “Not all of the world is being vaccinated at the same speed. And there remains a risk of new variants capable of bypassing vaccine immunity emerging.”


German FM says Taliban ‘show’ at UN would serve no purpose

German FM says Taliban ‘show’ at UN would serve no purpose
Updated 22 September 2021

German FM says Taliban ‘show’ at UN would serve no purpose

German FM says Taliban ‘show’ at UN would serve no purpose
  • UN credentials committee is reviewing a request from the Taliban to address the General Assembly
  • "To schedule a show at the United Nations won't serve anything," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters

UNITED NATIONS, United States: Germany on Wednesday voiced opposition to the Taliban’s request to address the United Nations, saying the “show” by Afghanistan’s new rulers would serve no purpose.
The UN credentials committee is reviewing a request from the Taliban to address the General Assembly on behalf of Afghanistan, which is still represented at the world body by the ambassador from the government that collapsed last month.
“To schedule a show at the United Nations won’t serve anything,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.
“What’s important are concrete deeds and not just words, including on human rights and in particular the rights of women and on an inclusive government and distancing from terrorist groups,” he said.
Maas said it was important to communicate with the Taliban, but said: “The UN General Assembly is not the appropriate venue for that.”
A senior US official suggested that the credentials committee, which includes the United States, would not make a decision before the General Assembly ends on Monday.
“It will take some time to deliberate,” the official said.
No nation has recognized the Taliban, whose brutal 1996-2001 regime enjoyed recognition from only three countries — Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.


France's envoy to return to US after Macron, Biden talks

France's envoy to return to US after Macron, Biden talks
Updated 22 September 2021

France's envoy to return to US after Macron, Biden talks

France's envoy to return to US after Macron, Biden talks
  • The two heads of state “have decided to open a process of in-depth consultations, aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence,” the Elysee and the White House said in a joint statement.
  • The French ambassador will “have intensive work with senior U.S. officials” after his return to the United States

PARIS: France will send its ambassador back to Washington next week after French President Emmanuel Macron and President Joe Biden agreed in a phone call Wednesday to meet next month over a submarine dispute.
The two heads of state “have decided to open a process of in-depth consultations, aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence,” the Elysee and the White House said in a joint statement. Macron and Biden will meet at the end of October in Europe, the statement said.
In an unprecedented move, France recalled its ambassador after the US, Australia and Britain announced a new Indo-Pacific defense deal last week. As part of the pact, Australia will cancel a multibillion-dollar contract to buy diesel-electric French submarines and acquire US nuclear-powered vessels instead.
The French ambassador will “have intensive work with senior US officials” after his return to the United States, the statement said.
Biden and Macron agreed “that the situation would have benefitted from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners,” it said. Biden “conveyed his ongoing commitment in that regard.”
Biden reaffirmed in the statement “the strategic importance of French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.”
The European Union unveiled last week a new strategy for boosting economic, political and defense ties in the vast area stretching from India and China through Japan to Southeast Asia and eastward past New Zealand to the Pacific.
The United States also “recognizes the importance of a stronger and more capable European defense, that contributes positively to transatlantic and global security and is complementary to NATO,” the statement said.
Earlier Wednesday, Macron’s office said the French president was expecting “clarifications and clear commitments” from Biden, who had requested the call.
French officials described as a “crisis of trust” last week’s announcement of the Indo-Pacific deal, with Macron being formally informed only a few hours beforehand.
Paris is calling for “acts, not words only,” Macron’s office said.
France’s European Union partners agreed Tuesday to put the dispute at the top of the bloc’s political agenda, including at an EU summit next month.
The French presidency categorically denied a report by Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper published on Wednesday saying Macron could offer the country’s permanent seat on the UN Security Council to the European Union if the bloc backs his plans on EU defense.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson dismissed French anger over the submarine deal, saying French officials should “get a grip.” Using both French and English words, he added they should give him a “break.”
Speaking to reporters on a visit to Washington, Johnson said the deal was “fundamentally a great step forward for global security. It’s three very like-minded allies standing shoulder-to-shoulder, creating a new partnership for the sharing of technology.”
“It’s not exclusive. It’s not trying to shoulder anybody out. It’s not adversarial toward China, for instance.”
The deal has widely been seen as part of American efforts to counter a more assertive China in the Indo-Pacific region.


Afghan women MPs arrive in Greece on way to US

Afghan women MPs arrive in Greece on way to US
Updated 22 September 2021

Afghan women MPs arrive in Greece on way to US

Afghan women MPs arrive in Greece on way to US
  • The women, whose identities were not revealed, left Afghanistan with assistance from the New York-based NGO Zaka Khan
  • Greece is currently home to 40,000 long-term Afghan refugees and asylum seekers, making it the largest migrant population in the country

ATHENS: Greece on Wednesday said it was temporarily hosting six Afghan women MPs and their families who fled Afghanistan ahead of eventual resettlement in the United States.
Greece was hosting a “symbolic” number of Afghans who are “defenders of fundamental values, freedom of expression and gender equality,” the foreign ministry said.
“Six Afghan MPs arrived in Athens via Tbilisi (Georgia) a few hours ago, accompanied by family members,” it said, revising an earlier statement referring to seven MPs.
“(They) will be hosted in Greece for a short time until resettlement procedures to the United States are completed,” it said.
The women, whose identities were not revealed, left Afghanistan with assistance from the New York-based NGO Zaka Khan, the ministry said.
Greece took part in US-led evacuation efforts in August to remove a small number of people from Afghanistan following the Taliban return to power after two decades.
A ministry source said Greece has so far taken in around 65 Afghan evacuees, and evacuated three Greek nationals.
Greece is currently home to 40,000 long-term Afghan refugees and asylum seekers, making it the largest migrant population in the country, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

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UK climate activists face prison for blocking highways

UK climate activists face prison for blocking highways
Updated 22 September 2021

UK climate activists face prison for blocking highways

UK climate activists face prison for blocking highways
  • Members of campaign group Insulate Britain have shut down parts of London's M25 highway
  • “Invading a motorway is reckless and puts lives at risk,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wrote on Twitter

LONDON: Environmental activists who have repeatedly blocked Britain’s busiest highway face possible imprisonment after a judge granted an injunction against the protesters, Britain’s transport secretary said Wednesday.
Members of campaign group Insulate Britain have shut down parts of London’s M25 highway, which circles the British capital, five times in just over a week by sitting on the ground, painting the name of their group on the road and raising placards in front of traffic. Some have also targeted other highways.
Police have arrested dozens of the protesters, who demand the government improve home insulation to reduce emissions from heating and powering homes.
“Invading a motorway is reckless and puts lives at risk,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wrote on Twitter. “I asked National Highways to seek an injunction against M25 protesters which a judge granted last night.”
The injunction means that activists will face contempt of court with possible imprisonment if they continue blocking roads.
Insulate Britain spokeswoman Zoe Cohen said protesters “understand that the risks they are taking are because that we have tried everything else to make the government protect us from the predicted impacts of climate chaos.”
“That involves the loss of all that we cherish, our society, our way of life and law and order,” she told BBC radio.
Cohen said her group wants the government to update insulation in social housing by 2025 and all homes by 2030, “because this is the most effective way to reduce emissions and save lives from fuel poverty.”
The group said it will end its campaign as soon as it hears a “meaningful commitment” by the government to its demands.
The High Court order, which officially came into force on Wednesday, prohibits anyone from “blocking, endangering, slowing down, preventing, or obstructing the free flow of traffic onto or along or off the M25 for the purposes of protesting.”