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8th May 2021

Erdoğan holds rainy picnic in Cypriot ghost-town

  • The ghost-town of Varosha is meant to stay empty until there is a peace deal, according to the UN Security Council (Photo: michael kirian)

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has angered Cyprus and left-wing Turkish Cypriots by holding a picnic in the hot-button location of Varosha.

His visit, on Sunday (15 November), saw Turkish officials bring in shrubs and other decorations to the ghost-town, which has stood empty for 45 years, but was spoilt by heavy wind and rain, the AP news agency reported.

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  • Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also called for a "two-state" solution (Photo: Flickr)

It also violated UN Security Council resolutions, which say Varosha ought to stay empty, until it is put under UN administration as part of a peace process.

Erdoğan said, in a speech in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus the same day, that his navy would continue to keep looking for oil and gas in Cypriot-claimed waters around the EU member state.

"Turkey's search for hydrocarbon resources will continue until a fair settlement is reached," he said.

He rubbished prospects of a UN-negotiated reunification of Cyprus, by calling for a two-state solution instead.

"A two-state solution must be discussed and negotiated on the basis of sovereign equality," he said.

And he indicated that Azerbaijan, a Turkish ally, might soon become the first country in the world, except Turkey itself, to recognise the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).

The TRNC's president, Erst Tatar, was shortly going to visit Baku to "make the situation better", Erdoğan said.

Tatar, a nationalist who also wants two states, was recently elected in a TRNC vote goosed by Turkish financial donations to his supporters.

But Erdoğan's visit prompted a rare show of defiance by left-wing Turkish Cypriots, who back Tatar's rival, Mustafa Akıncı, and reunification.

"No picnic over pain", some of the protest banners said, The Guardian newspaper reported.

It also prompted anger in Cyprus and Greece, who had, anyway, been calling for EU sanctions on Turkey in response to its naval adventures in the eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey "does not respect at all international legality, European principles and values, and its obligations toward the European Union", Cypriot president Nikos Anastasiadis said on Sunday.

And the Varosha picnic was a "torpedo" against UN-mediated reunification talks, which had stalled in 2017, but which were hoped to resume later this year, Anastasiadis added.

It was "an unprecedented provocation", the Greek foreign ministry also said.

Erdoğan's trip came a few days ahead of EU leaders' talks, due Thursday, in what has become a pattern of Turkish pre-EU summit stunts.

But EU leaders earlier said they would hold off on sanctions until in-depth talks on Turkey relations in December.

The sanctions options include scrapping an EU-Turkey customs union, in what would be a kick in the teeth to an already-fragile Turkish economy.

They include an arms embargo, after Turkey recently bought high-tech drones from Nato and EU states and used them to help Azerbaijan defeat Armenia in a war in the South Caucasus.

And they include visa-bans and asset-freezes on Turkish officials and entities in charge of the oil-and-gas expeditions in Cypriot and Greek waters.

Cyprus was divided in 1974 when Turkey invaded, after a Greek-led coup, to protect ethnic Turks.

Varosha had been a majority-Greek town, called, by some, the "Jewel of the Mediterranean", but Turkish soldiers forced people out at gunpoint.

The eastern Mediterranean aside, Erdoğan has, in the past year or so, antagonised Europe by invading northern Syria, sending troops to Libya, and calling on the millions of refugees Turkey hosts to go to the EU.

He has also picked a fight with French president Emmanuel Macron, calling him mentally ill and ordering a boycott on French products, after Macron defended secularism in the wake of a jihadist murder in Paris.

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