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AS GÜL VISITS NORTHERN CYPRUS

Turkish Daily News - September 16, 2007 How to end the Cyprus headache? Apart from the need to revive the reform drive at home, the Cyprus issue remains as the biggest obstacle for Turkey’s EU bid by Yusuf Kanli Elections are over. We have elected a new president. Although the October referendum – on constitutional amendments allowing the direct election of the president by our people – and the new constitution drive of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) may create some uncertainties in the period ahead, time has come to restore normalcy in the country and concentrate once again on how to advance the European Union membership bid of the country which has been much neglected for the past two years. This week, Ankara hosted a group of “wise men” who, in the past, made great contributions to Turkey's EU bid. They were Finland's former President Marti Ahtisaari, former Foreign Ministers Hans van den Broek of the Netherlands, Marcelino Oreja Aguirre of Spain, and Bronislaw Geremek of Poland, Austria's former foreign affairs general secretary and Emma Bonino, the European Affairs Minister of Italy. The message passed on Ankara by these eminent personalities was rather clear. They stressed in all clarity that time has come for Turkey to act immediately on some pending issues. Otherwise the EU process of the country will once again enter into dire straits. Although it may appear rather “politically risky” for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), what was said by the group of European wise men were mostly nothing further than what was already pledged to the EU by either Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, President Abdullah Gül or EU chief negotiator present-day Foreign Minister Ali Babacan or by some other senior political or bureaucratic Turkish figures. The most urgent of the list of “advises” the wise men said Turkey should undertake was regarding the contentious Article 301 of the Penal Code. That article has become the symbol of restrictions on freedom of expression in this country, and now our European friends stressed that before Turkey acted on it and “removed the chains on free thought,” no progress could be foreseen in Turkish-EU relations. Other reform demands of the wise men included the pledges of the AKP government to make amendments in the Law on Foundations in a manner lifting restrictions on owning property by the foundations established by minorities and undertaking legislative moves to guarantee the religious freedom of minorities. Within that framework, of course, is allowing the reopening of the Halki Seminary. The AKP, if it is sincere in its pledges to act on those subjects, has more than the required parliamentary strength to go ahead and achieve all those reforms immediately after Parliament returns from recess on Oct. 1. Cyprus imbroglio However, the demand of the wise men on Cyprus – which came as no surprise to us or anyone who has been following the Turkey-EU process – is not politically risky; it is indeed as explosive as any action which could upset the entire domestic balance in this country and may even lead to a serious regime crisis. That demand was for the reopening of Turkish ports and airports for Greek Cypriot use in line with the additional protocol to the Ankara Agreement – a document which was signed by the AKP government, but could not be implemented as it was not yet approved by Parliament. Neither getting almost 47 percent of the vote in the July elections, nor the party's number two becoming the new president of the country or any other development can empower the AKP to take such a bold step – which would be considered abandoning Turkish Cypriots and recognizing the Greek Cypriot state as the legitimate government of the entire island – without getting something from the Greek Cypriots and the EU that would help to sell the deal to the Turkish public as if something in favor of Turkish Cypriots was achieved. With Greek Cypriot leader Tassos Papadopoulos still declaring Turkey as the “only threat” to his people, dragging his feet in advancing the UN-brokered July 8, 2006 process, maintaining his adamancy in opposing all EU gestures aimed at easing the isolation of the Turkish Cypriot northern part of the island, how can Turkey unilaterally deliver such a comprehensive concession which will produce far reaching advantages to the Greek Cypriot state? On the other hand, Turkey cannot just allow the Cyprus issue to continue holding hostage the entire EU bid of the country. President Abdullah Gül will be visiting northern Cyprus on Tuesday and Wednesday. That will be his maiden voyage abroad as president and thus is very significant. But, will it go further than a protocol visit? We will see that during the visit.





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