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In the aftermath of the failed 2004 referendum on reunification between the Greek and Turkish communities of Cyprus, no further short-term prospects for a new initiative were evident in 2005. According to observers, Cyprus's membership in the European Union (EU) means that outside pressure on the Republic of Cyprus for compromise with the north is less likely to bring results.
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 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.
The government elected in Turkey in November 2002 was much less indulgent of then-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. Significant pressure from the EU and the United States, as well as UN intervention, also helped move the two sides closer to a settlement.
The latest and most promising round of reunification negotiations began after a new prounification government was elected in northern Cyprus in December 2003. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan led a series of negotiations that first included the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, and then those 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 in April 2004. Greek Cypriots, who previously had been more enthusiastic with respect to reunification, had reservations about the plan, especially concerning security and international guarantees that the Turkish side would comply. 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 in May 2004. Membership had been a bargaining tool for the EU with Cyprus, and without it, a new reunification plan is likely to be more difficult to achieve.
At first, the overwhelming approval of the Turkish Cypriots for reunification sparked international efforts to reward them by ending their isolation. However, the Greek Cypriots opposed the most far-reaching proposals, such as direct trade between the north and the rest of the world. Their veto in EU decisions has made EU openings to the north less likely. Meanwhile, trade has increased between the two sides, new checkpoints continue to open, and travel between the two sides is much freer.
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; the Greek Cypriots maintain that the constitution still applies to the entire island today. 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, 24 of which are reserved for the Turkish Cypriot community; however, the Turkish Cypriot representatives withdrew in 1964 and have not been replaced to date. Instead, the Turkish Cypriots maintain their own parliament in the northern part of the island. President Tassos Papadopoulos of the Democratic Party (DIKO) was elected in 2003 for a five-year term as head of state.
The two major parties are the Progressive Party of the Working People (AKEL) and the Democratic Rally (DISY), but six other parties are also represented in the house. Voting is compulsory, although there is no penalty for those who do not vote.
A new law allows Turkish Cypriots living in the south to vote and run for office in Greek Cypriot elections. The bill was in response to a 2004 European Court of Human Rights ruling in favor of a Turkish Cypriot applicant. Turkish Cypriots cannot run for president, as the constitution states that a Greek Cypriot should hold that post and a Turkish Cypriot should be vice president. No minorities are represented in the current House, although the Maronite, Armenian, and "Latin" communities have special nonvoting representatives.
Corruption is not a significant problem in Cyprus. A 2004 anticorruption law instituted compulsory asset declarations by state officials, although compliance with the law was problematic as many politicians and civil servants did not take the February 2005 deadline seriously. Cyprus was ranked 37 out of 159 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2005 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. Although Turkish Cypriot journalists can enter the south, Turkish journalists based in the north are often denied entry across the border. Reports of irregularities in freedom of expression leading up to the 2004 referendum continued to emerge in 2005. Violent exchanges took place between journalists and police during a truckers' strike in July; the Cyprus Media Complaints Commission accused the police of using excessive force in the arrest of a cameraman connected to the incident. Access to the internet is unrestricted, although rural residents have complained that they are required to pay exorbitant fees for access.
Freedom of religion is provided for by the constitution and is protected in practice. Nearly all the inhabitants of Greek-controlled Cyprus are Greek Orthodox Christians. State schools use textbooks containing negative language against Turkish Cypriots and Turkey.
Nongovernmental organizations, including human rights groups, operate without government interference. Workers have the right to strike and to form trade unions without employer 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, but requests for trial by jury are regularly granted. Prison overcrowding and unacceptable living conditions in detention centers are increasing concerns, highlighted by domestic and international human rights groups; police have disputed such claims. Brutality directed at suspects in detention has also been alleged.
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. The government's ombudsperson reported in 2004 poor living conditions and less access to education among the Roma (Gypsy) population, citing governmental discrimination as a cause.
Since Cypriot accession to the EU in 2004, 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 previously. A new border crossing opened in September 2005.
The status of property abandoned by those moving to either side of the Green Line beginning in 1974 has increasingly been seen as the major point of contention in reunification negotiations. New legislation passed in March 2005 increased the penalties for people holding "illegal" property. The increase means that the EU-wide European arrest warrant can be applied. It is unclear whether the arrest warrant will now be used against those who own formerly Greek Cypriot properties in the north, some of whom are vacationers from mainland Europe. A 1991 law states that property left by "Turkish Cypriots" belongs to the state.
Men comprise a greater share of all professions except the administrative and secretarial. Women who wear headscarves have complained of racism and prejudice. After both the Council of Europe and the U.S. State Department called attention to trafficking in women for the purposes of prostitution in Cyprus in 2004, the Cypriot police set up a new Human Trafficking Prevention Bureau to address the problem. The number of cases investigated and arrests made has greatly increased since then. In 2005, the United States praised Cyprus's progress and removed the country from its "watch list."