Freedom in the World
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Efforts at resolving Cyprus's decades-old dispute over reunification of the divided island intensified during much of 2002, ahead of an assessment of the country's European Union (EU) candidacy. However, talks broke down by the autumn and the United Nations intervened directly to revive negotiations. In December Cyprus completed accession negotiations with the EU's Executive Commission, and was invited to join the EU on May 1, 2004. Contenders for presidential elections, scheduled for early 2003, prepared to campaign; one of the candidates faced allegations of facilitating illegal financial transactions for Yugoslavian front companies during the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
Annexed by 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 in which the northern third is illegally occupied. In 1982, Turkish-controlled Cyprus made a unilateral declaration of independence that was condemned by the United Nations and that remains unrecognized by every country except Turkey.
Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides met with Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash in New York and Nicosia throughout the year in an ongoing attempt to reach a comprehensive UN-sponsored settlement of the conflict. Talks broke down just as the EU announced its intention to invite Cyprus to join the Union in 2004. Turkey has threatened to annex the northern part of Cyprus should EU membership occur in the absence of a settlement. Greece in turn has threatened to veto the EU's expansion process if Cypriot membership is delayed.
Attempts by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in December to secure a peace deal were setback when Mr. Denktash became ill.
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.
A UN war crimes investigator issued a report claiming Cyprus's Popular Bank allowed several Yugoslavian-controlled front companies to operate on the island in violation of UN sanctions. The companies allegedly provided former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's regime with fuel, raw materials, spare parts, and weapons used during the Bosnia and Kosovo wars in the 1990s. An independent investigation carried out by the Financial Times revealed that leading presidential candidate, Tassos Papadopoulos, a prominent Cypriot lawyer and head of the center-right Democratic Party, facilitated the illegal transactions to Yugoslavia.
Papadopoulous, a former member of a guerilla group that fought the British in the 1950s, was vying for the presidency with Yiannakis Omirou, leader of the Kisso, a small socialist party, backed by President Clerides. Presidential elections were expected to take place in February 2003, when President Clerides is scheduled to step down.
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.
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.
Workers have the right to strike and to form trade unions without authorization. More than 70 percent of the workforce belongs to independent trade unions.