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In 2004, the Greek and Turkish communities of Cyprus came the closest yet to reaching a settlement after months of intervention and a proposed reunification plan by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. However, amid accusations that the proposed plan favored the Turkish side, the Greek side voted against it in a referendum on April 24. Thus, the island remained divided and only the Greek part of the island joined the European Union (EU) on May 1.
Annexed by Britain in 1914, Cyprus gained independence in 1960 after a 10-year guerrilla campaign by partisans demanding 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 such unification. Five days later, Turkey invaded northern Cyprus, seized control of 37 percent of the island, and expelled 200,000 Greeks from the north. Today, the Greek and Turkish communities are almost completely separated in the south and north, respectively.
A buffer zone, called the "Green Line," has divided Cyprus since 1974. The capital, Nicosia, is similarly divided. 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 1983, Turkish-controlled Cyprus declared its independence, a move recognized only by Turkey.
A major change occurred with the election in November 2002 of a new Turkish government. This government has been much less indulgent of Turkish Cypriot president Rauf Denktash's opposition to reunification because Turkey's own chances of EU membership have been linked to a resolution of the island's division. This, combined with significant pressure from the EU and the United States as well as UN intervention, has moved the two sides closer to settlement.
The latest and as yet most promising round of reunification negotiations began after the parliamentary elections in northern Cyprus in December 2003. These elections brought to power a new coalition led by the new prime minister, Mehmet Ali Talat. Talat's party, the Republican Turkish Party (CTP), partnered with its former rival, the Democratic Party, to form a pro-unification government. With the subsequent sidelining of Denktash, the way was cleared for UN Secretary-General Annan to propose a new path toward a settlement.
Annan led a series of negotiations that included the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, followed by the inclusion of Greece and Turkey. When no consensus was reached, Annan himself proposed a plan that was put to a vote in simultaneous, separate referendums in northern and southern Cyprus on April 24, 2004. Prior to the Turkish Cypriot parliamentary elections, the international community had taken it for granted that the Turkish side would always be the one to delay a settlement. However, with the Turkish Cypriot government fully on board, the Greek Cypriots began to express severe reservations about the plan, especially concerning security and international guarantees that the Turkish side would comply. After Greek Cypriot president Tassos Papadopoulos expressed his opposition to the Annan plan in a speech less than a month before the referendum, it became clear that the plan would not be implemented. Ultimately, 76 percent of Greek Cypriots voted against the plan, while 65 percent of Turkish Cypriots voted in favor. With the island still divided, only Greek Cyprus joined the EU as planned on May 1. Subsequently, the Greek Cypriot government was accused of inappropriate involvement in the campaign process, including through influence of the media.
The overwhelming approval of the Turkish Cypriots for reunification sparked profound efforts on the part of the international community to reward them by ending their isolation. The Greek Cypriots have opposed the most far-reaching proposals, such as direct trade between the north and the rest of the world. Meanwhile, trade has increased between the two sides, and Greek Cypriots no longer need to show a passport to cross into the north. As a sign that the tide may be turning back, the pro-reunification opposition enjoyed an overwhelming victory over the ruling party in the European parliamentary elections in Greek Cyprus on June 14.
Greek Cypriots can change their government democratically. Suffrage is universal, 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, and from the Greek Cypriot point of view, the constitution still applies to the entire island. There is a clear separation of powers between the executive and legislature through a presidential system. The unicameral House of Representatives has 80 seats filled through proportional representation. Of these, 24 seats are reserved for the Turkish Cypriot community; however, it has not been represented since 1964, when the Turkish Cypriot representatives withdrew. (The Turkish Cypriots currently have a separate parliament in the northern part of the island.) President Tassos Papadapoulous of the Democratic Party (DIKO) was elected in 2003 for a five-year term. The two major parties are the Progressive Party of the Working People (AKEL) and the Democratic Party (DISY), but six other parties are represented in the house. Voting is compulsory, although there is no penalty for those who do not vote.
The government was accused of many irregularities with regards to the referendum campaign for the reunification plan of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Accusations were made that civil servants were pressured to vote "no" through insinuations that they might lose their benefits if the referendum passed, that teachers were encouraged to push a "no" vote in schools, and that the government interfered with independent media to skew coverage against the referendum. Some campaigners in favor of the plan faced verbal and physical harassment.
A bill passed in January allowed Turkish Cypriots to vote along with their Greek counterparts in the European parliamentary elections, although only 97 did. In June, Turkish Cypriot Sener Levent filed a case with the Greek Cypriot Supreme Court, arguing that he should not have been barred from standing in the European parliamentary elections; the government had denied his candidacy because he had not registered to vote. In that same month, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that all Turkish Cypriots must be allowed to register to vote in all Greek Cypriot elections.
Corruption is not a significant problem in Cyprus. A new anticorruption law that went into effect in September addresses the unlawful acquisition of property by public officials and institutes compulsory asset declaration by state officials. Cyprus was ranked 36 out of 146 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of speech is generally 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. However, during the referendum campaign, the media showed a marked bias against the Annan plan. Opponents of the Annan plan were given nearly two times as much television airtime on public and private channels combined as those who supported it. The state-owned Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation declined to interview members of the international community who were in favor of the Annan plan in the days leading up the referendum, despite these parties' requests to appear. Meanwhile Papadapoulous, who was openly against the plan, gave a televised interview that was broadcast by all channels only one hour before a ban on political campaigning took effect, two days before the referendum.
Freedom of religion is provided for by the constitution and is protected in practice. Around 99 percent of the inhabitants of Greek-controlled Cyprus are Greek Orthodox Christians. The government does not restrict academic freedom.
Nongovernmental organizations, including human-rights groups, operate without government interference. Workers have the right to strike and to form trade unions without authorization.
The independent judiciary operates according to the British tradition, upholding the presumption of innocence and the right to due process. Standard procedure calls for trial before a judge, although requests for trial by jury are regularly granted. Non-Greek-Cypriot inmates at Nicosia's central prison smuggled out a petition in July accusing prison authorities of violence against them.
A 1975 agreement between the Greek and Turkish sides of the island governs treatment of minorities. In practice, Turkish Cypriots in the South have reported difficulty obtaining identity cards and other documents, and have complained of surveillance by the police. The Pontian Greek population, which immigrated from the former Soviet Union, has had difficulty integrating into the rest of the population. In June, violence erupted between Pontian Greeks and police after allegations of police mistreatment of two Pontian suspects.
Disabled people staged a protest in June, accusing the government of failing to implement measures to ensure their basic human rights. A disabilities law to aid integration and rehabilitation has never been implemented.
Since Cypriot accession to the EU in May, all citizens can move freely throughout the island. Those attempting to enter the Greek part of the island illegally are now fined and turned back instead of imprisoned, as had previously been the case. A landmark Supreme Court ruling in September gave a Turkish Cypriot man the right to return immediately to his property on the Greek side, which he had deserted after the Turkish invasion, because his recent move to the Greek-controlled territory made him no longer a "Turkish Cypriot" (a 1991 law stated that property left by "Turkish Cypriots" belonged to the state). At the end of November, an appeal in the case was still pending. This ruling could have profound effects on the status of property abandoned in 1974.
In 2003, 45 percent of the labor force was female. The first female Supreme Court judge was appointed in May. However, men make up a greater share of all professions except the administrative and secretarial. Trafficking in women for the purposes of prostitution became a major issue in 2004 after both the Council of Europe and the U.S. State Department called attention to the situation in Cyprus. The police set up a new Human Trafficking Prevention Bureau to address the problem.