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EU 'cheated' by Greek Cypriots ahead of key vote
Updated: 2004-04-22 08:56

The EU's enlargement chief accused the Greek Cypriot government on Wednesday of "cheating" him over his efforts to reunite the island, offering its support for a U.N. plan only to denounce it at the last.

As Saturday's crucial reunification referendum neared, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell appealed to Greek Cypriots to consider the U.N. plan "very, very carefully" and said he was still optimistic of a "yes" vote.

In New York, Russia vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution backed by Britain and the United States that aimed to encourage Greek and Turkish Cypriots to back the U.N. plan.

Russia said the measure was being rushed through and should be taken up only after the plan had been adopted by both sides.

Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos has urged his people to vote against the plan, aimed at reuniting the island before it joins the EU on May 1. Opinion polls suggest voters in the south will back him in the twin referendums, while the poorer Turkish Cypriot north looks set to approve the deal.

If either side votes "no" only Greek Cypriots will enjoy the benefits of membership. Turkish Cyprus, beset by international sanctions, would stay outside the European Union's embrace.

"I personally feel that I have been cheated by the government of the Republic of Cyprus," EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen told the European Parliament.

"For months on end I have done everything I could in good faith to make it possible for the Greek Cypriot side to accept this plan on the understanding that this is what they intended to do. Now things look very different."

Verheugen's rebuke puts Greek Cypriots on the worst possible footing with Brussels days before joining the EU.

At the United Nations, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan repeated his call for a "yes" vote and ruled out a last-minute delay of the polls, as sought by some Greek Cypriots.

"I hope they (the parties) will really, really think hard before they cast their vote," Annan said.

His comments were echoed by Powell, who told Greece's MEGA TV it would be a "disappointing day if, after all this work, we essentially have not moved the process forward, we have not solved this problem."

"We are trying to suggest to the Greek Cypriots that they really look at this plan very, very carefully, look at what is in it for you and how it would benefit your island, how it would benefit your people," he said.


Diplomats say Greek Cypriot television stations have blocked access of EU and U.N. officials to the airwaves.

"The very least we can expect is a fair and balanced information campaign about the objectives and contents of this plan," Verheugen said.

The Greek Cypriot government swiftly denied the claims and questioned Verheugen's assertion they were prepared to accept any U.N. proposal given to them.

"In no case did President Papadopoulos undertake a commitment that he would accept just any settlement," Papadopoulos's spokesman Marios Karoyan said.

Domestically, criticism of Papadopoulos was equally sharp.

"Don't respond to chauvinistic nationalism. We should take the future into our hands and reject the easy "no,"" former Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides told a crowd of about 4,000 pro-plan supporters in the divided capital Nicosia.

Cyprus is the longest-running conflict on the U.N. peacekeeping agenda, with troops dispatched to keep the peace after violence flared in 1963 and a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a Greek-inspired coup.

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