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While the conflict that has kept Cyprus divided for nearly three decades remained unresolved in 2001, new hope emerged at the end of the year that a settlement might be at hand; the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders met face-to-face for the first time in four years. Cypriots staged violent demonstrations outside a British military base during the year, protesting the planned construction of high-frequency radio towers in the vicinity of the base. The Communist Party won parliamentary elections in May. Negotiations for Cyprus's accession into the European Union (EU) moved forward, raising the possibility of inclusion by 2003.
Annexed to Britain in 1914, Cyprus gained independence in 1960 after a ten-year guerrilla campaign to demand union with Greece. In July 1974, Greek Cypriot National Guard members, backed by the military junta in power in Greece, staged an unsuccessful coup aimed at unification. Five days later, Turkey invaded, seized control of 37 percent of the island, and expelled 200,000 Greeks from the north. Currently, the entire Turkish Cypriot community resides in the north, and property claims arising from the division and population exchange remain unsettled.
A buffer zone called the "Green Line" has divided Cyprus since 1974. The capital, Nicosia, is the world's last divided city. The division of Cyprus has been a major point of contention in the long-standing rivalry between Greece and Turkey in the Aegean. Tensions and intermittent violence between the two populations have plagued the island since independence. UN resolutions stipulate that Cyprus is a single country of which the northern third is illegally occupied. In 1982, Turkish-controlled Cyprus made a unilateral declaration of independence that was condemned by the UN and that remains unrecognized by every country except Turkey. (See Turkish Cyprus under Related Territories.)
Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides met with Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash in Nicosia in December, marking the first such meeting in four years. Both sides promised to negotiate until they reached a comprehensive settlement. Analysts saw the resumption of talks related to the expected accession of Cyprus to the EU in 2003. Turkey has threatened to annex the northern part of Cyprus should EU-membership occur in the absence of a settlement.
The two leaders last participated in reunification negotiations in New York in September 2000. The talks were organized to lay the groundwork for meaningful negotiations toward a comprehensive settlement of the conflict. The negotiations marked the fourth round of UN-brokered proximity talks, so called because the two Cypriot leaders negotiated via intermediaries rather than directly. UN mediators, hoping the round of talks would address the core issues--and historic deal breakers--of territorial allotment and reunification, insisted that each party to the conflict treat the other as a political equal. President Clerides refused to continue the talks when Denktash demanded recognition of his state, which is recognized only by Turkey. Negotiations resumed in November 2000 but ended abruptly, with the two sides unable to narrow their differences.
Peace in Cyprus remains fragile. Propaganda in schools and in the media has sustained hostility among Cypriot youth. Blatant economic disparity exists between the prosperous south and the stagnating north. Cyprus ranks among the most heavily militarized countries in the world.
For several days in July, dozens of Cypriots rioted outside a British military base stationed on the island. Violent protests broke out over the British military's plans to construct frequency towers on and around the Akrotiri military base. Cypriots claimed the towers would emit harmful radiation. Britain stations 3,500 troops on a base occupying 78 square miles.
Greek Cypriots can change their government democratically. Suffrage is universal and compulsory, and elections are free and fair. The 1960 constitution established an ethnically representative system designed to protect the interests of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots. In parliamentary elections in May, the Communist Reformist Party of the Working People (AKEL) party claimed 34.7 percent of the popular vote, the largest bloc. The party supports the island's reunification and the country's bid for EU membership. The independent judiciary operates according to the British tradition, upholding the presumption of innocence and the right to due process. Trial before a judge is standard, although requests for trial by jury are regularly granted.
Freedom of speech is respected, and a vibrant independent press frequently criticizes authorities. Several private television and radio stations in the Greek Cypriot community compete effectively with government-controlled stations. In addition, the government also publishes a Cyprus Internet home page, which features information regarding efforts to resolve the island's protracted dispute as well as current developments and policy statements by Cypriot leaders.
Workers have the right to strike and to form trade unions without authorization. More than 70 percent of the workforce belong to independent trade unions.